Botanical Gardens

Germany: A Second day in Saarbrucken

Heron in the Franco-Deutsh GardensThere was so much to see in Saarbrucken that I decided on a second day in the city. First stop, the Franco-German Gardens. This is a botanical garden near the border between the two countries. It was built as a symbol cooperation. There is a large lake with protected islands for waterfowl. There are heaps of trails leading through landscaped tree and flower gardens. I’m sure it’s much more impressive than this grey December day in the spring.

Headstones in GardensInside the gardens on the far end is a strange memorial. A memorial containing the headstones of military and civilian, French and German victims from French-German conflicts in the 1880’s. What is particularly odd, is that they only moved the headstones, and not the graves. There is only one woman’s headstone here. She was a local to the Saarbrucken region and worked to help the injured on both sides. It’s tucked in a thick patch of pines creating a dark and quiet space. Fresh flowers were on one stone, a lit candle on another. This place is meaningful to somebody today.

I walked the several miles from the gardens into town. I decided to go to the Saarland Art museum, where there was a spectacular special exhibition of Picasso works. It’s amazing how just a few strokes, a few lines on his sketches can communicate so much. On the other hand, there were crayon or finger painted primitive pieces that looked like what is stuck to refrigerators of parents of toddlers everywhere.

Deb with the prizesWe won a prize at dinner tonight! Actually, Mark made the winning roll of the dice. 6-6-5. Out of everyone in the restaurant (which admittedly weren’t very many), but still, we won! And we won a bottle of locally produced Riesling, my favorite type of wine and a little chocolate egg with a creepy toy inside.

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Greece: Athens – Royal Gardens, Temple of Zues, Lykavittos Hill

Detail of inlaid stone around fountainWith a freshly soaking wet head I ventured outside on this marginally cooler day to see a few outdoor sites. Next to the Parliament building is the forty acre National Gardens. I went in the morning and spent a couple hours there. For one, it was at least twenty degrees cooler within the gardens than the rest of the city. Athens has few trees along roads or in squares. A cool breeze actually came out of any of the areas that had significant numbers of trees and greenery. So I didn’t mind staying there for as long as I did.

The turtle hiding among the flowers bolted as I approachedIt isn’t an organized botanical garden per se. It is a park riddled with meandering paths, pools and fountains. The fountains had intricately inlaid stones around them. The park was created in the 1840’s and was landscaped by Friedrich Schmidt, a Prussian horticulturist, who traveled the world looking for rare plants. It’s not the same park as it once was, but was a wonderful place for respite from the sun and heat.

Olympian Temple of ZeusThere were woodpeckers everywhere, just as many as the pigeons. I thought there was a strangely large bird under the leaves of a patch of purple flowers, until I noticed that it was actually a turtle. A speedy turtle that took off as I approached, but not before I could give him a little photo shoot!

On the far side of the National Gardens is the Olympiann Temple of Zues. It is the largest temple in Greece, even larger that the Parthenon. Construction began in the 6th century B.C. but was not completed until 650 years later. Only 15 of the original 104 columns remain, but there is enough of the temple left that you really get a sense for the enormous size and scale of the temple.

Fallen column of Olympian Temple of Zeus

In the evening Mark and I headed on over to Lykavittos Hill. At 910 feet it’s the highest point inside the city of Athens. The ancient belief was that it was the rock destined to become the Acropolis citadel, accidentally dropped by Athena. We rode the funicular which was like the inclines in Pittsburgh, but in a tunnel, I would have thought it would have been out in the open for the views on the ride.

Mark on the very edge of Lykavittos HillOnce to the top we enjoyed the panoramic views of the city, we could see the Aegean Sea off behind the Acropolis. There is a small monastery and bell tower on top of the hill as well. We enjoyed a lovely (and a refreshingly really non-Greek) dinner at the terraced restaurant on the hill. I had the Sole served with an orange glaze and almonds with a bitter greens salad with pomegranate. We shared a dessert involving flambeed tomatoes and strawberries served with a mango and green pepper sorbet.

Deb on Lykavittos HillWith the funicular on running every half and hour near midnight, we decided to walk down the hill. Even in the relative coolness of the evening air, it was a rough hike down, if we stopped moving, that gave the still air enough time to remind us how hot we were.

Most the of the dirt path on the way down wasn’t lit aside from what light from the moon. It was one of those quiet and private moments Mark and I get to share, with no one else in sight. Hiking down the highest hill in Athens at midnight. Midnight! The metro stops at midnight! We were a couple miles away from the hotel, but slogged through the heat and fell asleep the moment our heads hit the air conditioned hotel pillows.

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Spain: Madrid – Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid

I spent the day at the Real Jardin Botanico aka The Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid.

Not much to say, it is a small but nice garden, surrounded on all sides by busy roads so you never escape feeling like you’re in the middle of a city. There were dozens of small fountains which served as the center of a square garden. Each little square had a “theme” either being all of a particular family or genus or a collection of plants from a particular region. I did spend a good bit of time stalking butterflies and hence, this is mostly a post for sharing some gorgeous photos:

Hummingbird hawk moth in flight

Red Admiral Butterfly in Spain Cebolla roja de miort

Aloe soponaria flowers Line of mini fountains

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England: Didsbury – Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden

AzaleasWith Azalea’s aflame, carpets of Columbine and surrounded in swaths of fragrant Wisteria I walked through the Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens and hiked on through to the neighboring woodlands.

I purchased the mini guide book written by the curator/gardener of the grounds and read it while sitting in the gardens. He had his own flavor of humor interjecting the stories of how and why certain plants are included in this garden with tales of personnel past and present, and ghost stories galore associated with the buildings on the grounds.

It really felt like an oasis that few people new about. I visited the grounds and woods twice this week and barely saw another soul. On the hike I got a little “lost” well, not really, it was just a detour to the River Mersey by missing taking the right trail back to the village. It was only a problem when I realized how hungry I was and that I was probably at least an hour away from getting out of the woods.

I made it back to civilization and had a lovely lunch at a French cafe (Cafe Rouge), I ordered the Prix Fixe menu, hoping it would be a fast lunch. A tomato tartlet with creme fraiche, Penne with smoked salmon and zucchini followed by creme brulee and coffee took all of two hours to escape from.

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Kew Gardens with Family

Inspecting flowersToday we made use of our Kew Membership and guest passes and made our second trip to the Royal Botanical Gardens with Mark’s mom and grandmother. As two fellow lovers of flowers and gardening, I knew they would really enjoy this place, this place that is my most favorite place in England. Pictured is Mark with his grandmother inspecting a flowering tree.

So much was in bloom and so much was different from the first time we visited! We’re certainly going to need to make better use of our membership and visit more often. There was a lot of walking and photography going on, and again we only saw a tiny fraction of the gardens, but it is such a beautiful and worthwhile place to visit.

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Cliveden

Detail of GateLong before we even had the plan of moving abroad and since we always talked about how we wanted to travel and see the world, my parents gave us a fascinating book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die that lists places of interest all over the world. Areas of natural beauty, historic sites, world heritage sites, restaurants, those sort of things that interest us and more hotels and spas than I would care to know about.

For years we’ve been able to tick off numerous locales, from the Dry Tortugas National Park, visiting sites in California, Costa Rica, Japan and across the U.S. The book also reveals details and tasty information tidbits that might intrigue us enough to add new places we want to make sure we see.

As a complete coincidence with the way the book is organized, it starts with European countries, beginning with England sites. The very first listing in the book is Cliveden (pronounced Cliv-den), a site that happens to be half a mile from our house. So today, with our newly acquired membership to the National Trust in hand, we visited the first item listed in the book.

This historic house, formerly home to previous Princes of Wales and other high society socialites, is now a hotel with amazing surrounding gardens. It is situated atop a hill and has spectacular views over the bit of English countryside we call home. Walking along the Thames near our house a few days later, I was able to spot the golden clock tower sparkling in the sun.

This was a nice low impact introduction to the area we live in for Mark’s mom and grandmother. We had gorgeous sunny weather (as we did for the entire ten days they were here) which made for a lovely walk through the gardens. We should have packed a picnic and enjoyed lunch on the grounds, like the countless others, directly under the “no picnicking” signs.

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Lund University and Natural History Museum

A museum of museumsThe Natural History Museum in Lund is available to view by appointment only. When I arrived I was treated to a personal tour by a staff member, as I was the only person in the museum at the time, he needed to unlock the doors and turn on the lights.

Butterflies of Sweden displayThis museum could be a museum about museums. You’ll find no flashing lights or blaring modern exhibits, it’s strictly an old school museum full of articulated skeletons and stuffed organisms. I was directed to remains of note, one of the few remaining complete skeletons of an Aurochs and Tasmanian Wolf. I was pleased to see displays of Scandinavian fauna, including a display of Swedish butterflies. The forms and colors of which was reminiscent of a display of Pennsylvanian butterflies. I also made a visit to the entomology department, although most of the staff were away at a seminar, I had a guide that directed me around the aisles. I was surrounded by familiar sights and *smells*, once you’ve been in one bug room you’ve seen them all :)

Insect FamiliesBefore my museum appointment I decided to explore the University of Lund campus. In the central library, there was display of papers and artifacts relating to Linnaeus. He had attended this university in 1727. He was only there for a year, and apparently not a terribly good student. He had worked in the botanical gardens while he was there.

The exhibit had letters he had written to his mentor Stobaeus and a class room roster with his signature, in addition to a copy of an edition of Systema Naturae. I really should have gone to the lecture on campus the other night that was on Linnaeus, even if it was in Swedish, it would have been a fascinating context. I didn’t go because it was right at dinner time to meet back up with Mark.

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Lund, Botanical Garden

Botaniska trädgården , the botanical garden associated with the University of Lund. The greenhouses are open to the public for free 12-3 daily. A warm oasis in the cold Scandinavian air. Highlights, the passion flowers filling one of the rooms with an amazing fragrance, cacti (oh how I adore photographing cacti!), and it’s just large enough to spend a few hours appreciating the plants.

Although there was some snow coving the grounds outside, there were a few flowers in bloom, or starting to emerge from the snow, with the evergreen trees and bushes along the footpaths it made strolling through the gardens worthwhile, I would love to return to see everything else in bloom.

Passion Flower Scandanavian winter flowers Garden paths lined with stone and conifers

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Kew Botanical Gardens

DSC_4303Okay, I can officially say that Kew is my favorite place in England (so far, and really, no surprise there). It was lovely and sunny and not too terribly busy.

We only were able to see a fraction of the gardens in the few hours we were there. We hit the photography paradise that is inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which houses 10 climatic zones, and includes the room full of orchids. I additionally love photographing cacti and ferns. Those fortunate enough to be in a ray of sunlight were particularly radiant.

DSC_4237We strolled the grounds for a bit, with the aim of heading toward the Temperate Glasshouse, but kept getting side tracked by interesting and impossibly large old trees. We managed a quick tour of the Temperate house and made sure to go up to the sky walk up the narrow spiral staircase before the conservatories were closed fifteen minutes prior to the Gardens closing. Looking down on the umbrellas of tree ferns I snapped a shot and was reminded of a photo I captured staring up into a dizzying array of fern leaves in Costa Rica, the play of light creating an optical illusion.

As the Gardens were closing, we made our way through the Witch Hazel that is in bloom this time of year. Over all I was amazed and impressed with just how many flowering plants were flowering now, in January. I am in awe of this place, of how so many hundreds of species from around the world grow on the grounds and thrive in alien environmental conditions.

Since we know this is a place we’ll want to visit again and again, we’ve decided to become “Premier Friends of Kew” This will allow us unlimited visits to Kew (and over a dozen other gardens in England) along with a number of guest passes, as we’ll definitely want to take guests there when they visit us.

I wonder how far we walked with several hours of solid walking? I also wonder just how many different species of trees are on the grounds? The Kew FAQ site mentions there are over 14,000 trees on its 300 acres, but I have not seen a quote anywhere of just how many different species there are.

A few of my favorite shots (hard to just pick a few):
Cactus in sunlight DSC_4275 DSC_4298

The complete photo set here

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