In many parts of the country, signs of spring are emerging. But for those of us located in northern latitudes or at higher altitudes, spring still feels far away. In magazines and on social media, images of spring flowers abound and nurture a tiny seed of envy. To get me through these last cold days, I try to get outside and remember that there’s still a lot of beauty that can be found while the earth slumbers.
Deserts typically conjure images of dry, desolate places that are devoid of life but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They often contain a remarkable amount of biodiversity. Plants have developed amazing adaptations to survive in the harshest environments.
To see firsthand the beauty of the desert, you need to visit the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. The 140-acre garden resides among the red rocks and buttes of Papago Park and is home to more than 50,000 plants. You’ll see more cacti than you knew existed, as well as many different types of agaves, yuccas, and aloes. The garden is superbly designed and showcases how desert plants can be used to create spectacular gardens.
I had different plans for 2018. I thought I’d spend my days strolling through manicured gardens, oohing and aahing at the delightful plant combinations. Life doesn’t always go as planned, however. Instead, my travels took me to the remote corners of the United States－far from cities and people. High in the mountains, you don’t find many gardens, at least not man-made ones.
Luckily for me, nature creates vignettes more beautiful than you can find in many gardens. Tall pines frame beautiful vistas. In wild meadows, grasses and wildflowers layer like brushstrokes on a living canvas. Wildflowers cascade down mountain slopes, softening rugged landscapes. An expansive carpet of ferns adds tranquility to a forest.
This year, I was a careful observer of the patterns in nature and found inspiration in its diverse environments. Reflecting on 2018, these are five places that captured my heart.
At the top of a mountain basin surrounded by beautiful peaks, you’ll find Copley Lake. The small lake is nestled in a bright, open meadow that’s ringed by a dark spruce forest. Like a living fence, the tall spruces shelter this secret spot. Surrounding the lake is a chartreuse meadow, which transitions to marsh as the land gently slopes towards the shore.
To reach this little-known gem, you’ll have to put in some work. While the trail isn’t terribly long, it does gain 1300 feet in elevation. The solitude that you find on the trail and at the lake is well worth the effort. Compared to other trails in Crested Butte, Copley Lake is less visited. It’ll likely be just you, the lake, the wildflowers, and the mountains.
Vibrant wildflowers adorn the the mountains and valleys of Crested Butte for two glorious months. From late June through August, verdant green meadows are dotted with a dazzling array of colors. It’s a veritable kaleidoscope of colors. Swaths of yellow mule’s ears and blue lupines streak the landscape. Brilliant sunny skies transform the flowers into wild stained glass windows for the mountain cathedral. It’s no surprise to learn that Crested Butte claims to be the wildflower capital of Colorado. The wildflowers are so beautiful, you can practically hear the mountains singing their exuberant praise.
Gardens with Latitude. A catchy name but also the defining theme of the Naples Botanical Garden. Located on the 26th latitude north, the garden features plants that thrive between the two 26th parallels. This region includes some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth and is home to many unique plant communities. Themed gardens showcase the plants and culture of Brazil, Florida, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.
Like the city it resides in, and many of those found between the two 26th latitudes, water is a central theme at the Naples Botanical Garden. The designers use water to organize the space into distinct garden rooms. Crossing over a bridge transports you from one tropical paradise to the next. The diversity of gardens means that there is much to discover. If you move quickly, you’ll be able to see everything in a few hours. But if you’re like me, you’ll be able to spend many glorious hours exploring this tropical paradise.
The first steps are the most difficult. Before you looms a mixture of marl mud and periphyton algae that resembles vomit. Like soggy cheese puffs, the algae floats on the water’s surface.
Don’t hesitate, just walk in. There’s no other way. You will get muddy and wet. But it is completely worth it to be able to see the interior of Big Cypress National Preserve. Once inside, you’ll quickly forget the mud. A beautiful otherworldly forest rises up from the water before you.
A visit to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is a visit to the far reaches of the world. As you walk through the 83-acre garden, you’re transported from tropical rainforests to pine rocklands to the forests of Madagascar. Located in Coral Gables, Florida, warm winters and wet summers allow palms, cycads, tropical trees, and flowering shrubs to thrive. The garden is home to one of the largest collections of subtropical and tropical plants within the continental United States.
Costa Brava, or the wild coast, stretches from Blanes to the French border. Like a saw blade, hundreds of tiny coves and capes mark the rugged coast and each one holds a surprise. I went to the Costa Brava searching for pristine waters, fresh seafood, and coastal trails. But I also found an unexpected botanical treasure: the Jardins de Cap Roig. Perched on cliffs that tower above the Mediterranean Sea, the botanical gardens of Cap Roig will delight garden lovers with exotic plant collections and stunning views.
The first snow of the year has blanketed the earth and garden. Snow clings to tree branches and twigs, transforming their dark branches into intricate lace. While the snow may be beautiful, the biting cold is less enjoyable.
Winter came quickly this year. The temperatures plummeted and we’ve been locked in her cold embrace the last few weeks. The first frost and snow finished off the few plants that clung to life. With nature slumbering, strolls through the woods and garden lose some of their fun. I’ve found that the best way to escape the cold and get into the holiday spirit is to visit a garden conservatory.