Monday, February 12, 2024

The Gardens of Alcatraz


I bet when you think of Alcatraz, you don't think of gardens. But the well-known prison off the coast of San Francisco, California has some lovely gardens. The island of Alcatraz was a barren rock until the 1860s when the first residents planted gardens in pockets of imported soil. Sent to live on this gray island, army families took refuge in Victorian-style flower gardens around the prison.

Prisoners also gardened. Army prison crews, and later a few penitentiary inmates, created a manicured landscape that bloomed until the prison closed in 1963. The flowering terraces, rose beds, and lawns then grew wild for 40 years. 

In 2003, the Garden Conservancy, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the National Park Service began a joint effort to preserve and restore the historic gardens.

The only way to see Alcatraz up close and personal is to take a ferry over. The cost options for tours vary, but most are around $40. If you're in San Francisco, go online to reserve your place on the ferry. You can stay as long as you want once you're there. Ferries leave every hour.  The last one departs from Alcatraz at 4:45. 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Hearst Castle Gardens


The Hearst Castle Gardens are located near San Simeon, California, along the Central Coast, off of Highway 1.  They are part of the impressive estate of newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst.  The castle and gardens were designed by Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947.  The castle showcases Mr. Hearst's vast collection of antiques.  Getting up to the castle and gardens is an interesting ride.  Visitors will take a bus that travels up a 1600-foot high hill, winding past grazing cattle and an occasional zebra.  Yes, that's right.  Mr. Hearst had a zoo up on his hill with a collection of exotic animals.  The zebras escaped when the zoo was being dismantled. The herds of zebras are descended from the original zoo animals.

Once at the castle, visitors will see luxurious gardens designed on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Terraces are adorned with glazed tiles and fountains.  One of the most beautiful fountains is the Neptune Fountain, pictured at the left.  Mr. Hearst wanted a garden that displayed blooms throughout the year, so the gardens were planted with flowers and plants that offered continuous color.

When I was there, I saw star jasmine, hydrangeas, myrtle, oleanders, petunias, roses, succulents, and orange trees.

To see the gardens, you must sign up for a tour of the castle.  There are three varieties of tours.  I took one of the Great Rooms.  It was quite fascinating.  Tours cost $25.00 for adults and $12.00 for children.  The castle is open daily from 8:20 AM to 6:30 PM.  The last tour is around 4:00 PM.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Butchart Gardens

 Butchart Gardens, located near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on Vancouver Island, contains 55 acres of simply gorgeous floral gardens. I had the great pleasure of visiting these gardens a couple weeks ago. Even in the fall, they are breathtaking!

In 1907, garden designer, Isaburo Kishida, came to Victoria to build a tea garden for Esquimalt Gorge Park.  A prominent citizen of the area, Jennie Butchart, saw the garden and commissioned Kishida to create Japanese gardens for her estate.  In 1909, the sunken garden was created, followed by a rose garden and an Italian garden.  

Ownership of the gardens remains within the Butchart family, but they are open to the public. The gardens are open every day from 9AM to 4 PM, except for Christmas when the gardens open at 1:00 PM.  Admission prices range from $3.00 for children, to $30.00 for adults, depending on the season you visit.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Swan Lake Iris Garden


Swan Lake Iris Garden is a 150-acre garden full of Japanese irises, camellias, lilies, azaleas, and magnolias. The 45-acre lake is home to eight species of swans.

The story surrounding the garden is rather interesting. It began in 1927 as a private fishing retreat for Hamilton Carr Bland, a local businessman. He had attempted to landscape his home with irises but failed miserably. Frustrated, he dug up all the iris bulbs and dumped them at the lake. The next spring, the irises came up and bloomed. They've been flourishing ever since. Mr. Bland deeded the gardens to the city in 1949.

The gardens are open from 7:30 a.m. until dusk. Admission is free. (The best time to view the irises is from mid-late May until early June.)

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Summerville Azalea Park


Summerville Azalea Park, located in Summerville, South Carolina, is a 16-acre public park. Of course, it has many beautiful flowering azaleas. It also has dogwood, wisteria, and crepe myrtle, as well as five butterfly-reflecting ponds, bronze sculptures, a gazebo, and ornamental bridges.

It's a lovely place to spend an afternoon wandering down the nature trails. Spring is the best time to view the colorful blooms.

The park is open from 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Admission is free. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Naples Botanical Garden


Naples Botanical Garden is located in Naples, Florida.  Believe it or not, this 170 acre site once used to be a strip mall.  In 1993, eight Naples residents with a dream of creating a world class botanical garden, transformed it into seventy acres of beautiful tropical gardens.  These include a Children's Garden, Brazilian Garden, Caribbean Garden, Florida Garden, and Asian Garden.

There are also 90 acres of beautifully restored natural habitat.  Visitors will enjoy orchids, palm trees, and fruit trees, along with two lakes and a large wetland.

The gardens are open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  Admission is $14.95 for adults and $9.95 for children.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Alaska Botanical Gardens



Alaska Botanical Gardens, located in Anchorage, Alaska opened in 1993. It covers about 110 acres and contains over 1,000 varieties of plants native to southcentral Alaska.  There's an herb garden, a rock garden, and a wildflower walk.  It's a great place to hike with spectacular views of the Chugach Mountain Range.  Nature lovers will enjoy it for bird watching, and occasionally will spot moose and bears.

The gardens are open year-round from dawn to dusk.  The cost of admission for adults is $7.00.  For children, admission is $5.00.