Deserts contain more than just sand dunes and cacti. Remarkable plant adaptations have resulted in a diverse array of habitats in the high desert of northern New Mexico. Silvery green grasses and shrubs carpet the red hills and dark evergreens punctuate the landscape surrounding Ghost Ranch. Mesas and buttes rise up from the desert floor; their crevices and nooks offering tenacious plants a home. Dark mountain vistas loom in the distance; their wetter slopes home to towering ponderosa pine. A visit to Ghost Ranch is an opportunity to explore and learn about the plants of the high desert.
The vast open prairie and pine flatwoods provide little shade at the Hal Scott Preserve and Park. On a cloudless day, the sun is relentless. Sunscreen is a must. I wouldn’t recommend visiting in the heat of summer. But on a cool winter morning, the sun’s warmth is welcome.
For hours, I walk alone through a never-ending sea of saw palmettos. The sharp leaf segments of the palm fans surround me, their tips catching the sunlight. They glow an intense—almost unnatural—chartreuse.
If you’ve outgrown Disney and roller coasters bring more fear than fun, you may be tempted to write off Orlando as a travel destination. But that’d be a mistake. A mistake that I almost made when my boyfriend asked me to join him on a business trip to Orlando. Instead, I found that Orlando offers much more than theme parks. A little-known garden oasis near downtown Orlando is a welcome retreat from the crowds at Disney and Universal Studios.
The Harry P. Leu Gardens reside on almost 50 acres and contain nearly 30 different plant collections, including camellia, rose, bamboo, azalea, bromeliad, palm, and cycad. If you’re a horticulture or garden enthusiast, Leu Gardens is worth a visit if you find yourself in Orlando.