Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Desert Island Gardens

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "desert island discs"? Those being the discs you would take if you were being cast away on a desert island. I always assumed these were entire CD's, but I guess they're instead songs, since the idea got it's start in 1949 (pre CD) on BBC radio. The original program called for each castaway to "choose eight recordings (usually, but not always, music), a book and a luxury item" (source).

I've been brushing up on all of this because I've watched a couple episodes of something called Desert Island Gardens as part of Noel Kingsbury and Annie Guilfoyle's Garden Masterclass on YouTube

The first one I watched was Noel Kingsbury himself, and I must say Noel and I have very different garden taste (a note on the video I linked to above; this is not the same one I watched but an abbreviated version, the original seems to have disappeared).

The formal Duncan Garden, part of Manito Park, one of my "d.i.g."—Nigel might appreciate this garden

The next castaway I watched was James Sinclair. As I post this his video is still available for watching in it's entirety, I hope it stays that way because he is a very entertaining fellow, find it here. He starts by saying “my favorite garden is always my own” which I found to be a delightful thought. Later he muses that the best thing about visiting a public garden that is vast, and empty, is that it’s yours. I have had that feeling and I must say it is wonderful.

So...do you want to play along? Annie and Noel propose that you get five gardens plus a book and an item. I'm also adding another question, what is the next (new to you) garden you want to visit when you get off that island? Here are my answers, the gardens appear in the order in which I discovered/visited them:

1. Manito Park, Spokane, Washington (website)

Why: I grew up in Spokane and Manito Park was always a very special place to visit. When I bought my home in Spokane in 2001 the fact it was just two blocks from the park was a major selling point. The "park" (it really is so much more than a park) dates back to 1904 and covers "78 acres of native and cultivated landscape and 20 acres of world class botanical gardens." These gardens include a Japanese Garden, the sunken formal Duncan Garden, Rose Hill, Lilac Garden, Ferris Perennial Garden, Mirror Pond, and Gaiser Conservatory. 

Inside the Gaiser Conservatory, Manito Park

When I was a kid the Mirror Pond was surrounded with huge old weeping willows, which were a sight to see. A bad ice storm took out many of them in the late 1990's. The Gaiser Conservatory was another favorite spot. Tropical plants and desert plants under glass... magic! This park is a gem and it was my first experience with just how powerful visiting a public garden can be.

2. Lotusland, Montecito, California (website)

Why: Because Ganna Walska created an over-the-top, yet just right, garden paradise. There are so many parts to Lotusland—Bromeliad Garden, Aloe Garden, Fern Garden, Cactus Garden, and on and on—each individual garden is amazing  and they all include a special "oh, did she really do that!?" touch. Put them all together and I have to pinch myself to make sure it's real, it is really that good. It's also worth noting that admission to the garden is restricted and done by reservation so there are no crowds. I've never gone the docent route, instead touring on my own. This garden helped to cement my feeling that creating a garden that makes you happy is the most important thing of all.

The Fern Garden at Lotusland

3. The Huntington Gardens, San Marino, California (website)

Why: Like Lotusland there are several individual gardens within the whole, and while I enjoy strolling them all, the reason the Huntington is on this list is because of the Desert Garden. It is a first class collection of plants I love, and it's amazing. Huge specimens, expertly grown. Plus with the curving pathways you are certain to find a secluded spot to soak it all up, no matter how busy the garden is. The Huntington is of a size that I can lose myself in the wonder of it all and that's the best feeling.

The Desert Garden at The Huntington

4. The Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, California (website)

Why? I want to call the RBG scrappy, but that sounds like an insult, and that's not how it's meant. This garden is the creation of one woman with a vision—just like Lotusland—but unlike Lotusland it's not a performance. Even though the RBG is a public garden now, it still manages to feel like a home garden, and that's part of what makes it so special to me. This garden shows that you just never know what that "thing" you're working on might turn into.

The Ruth Bancroft Garden

 5. The Taft Garden, Ojai, California (website)

Why? The Taft has a website now, and online reservations with a fee. However, when I visited in 2016 none of that existed. You got there by word of mouth and a map that was emailed and not terribly detailed. I've only visited the one time—and it was a spur of the moment thing, Christmas Eve to boot—but the experience was such that it lives very large in my memory. I was the only one there, I had the place to myself, having left Andrew in a bookstore in Ventura, oh and my cell phone wasn't getting any reception. It was a little unnerving, but one of the best moments of my life. The plants, the location, the obscurity—yes please.

The Taft Garden

The book 

This is is hard! I don't want to take a single book, I want to take my iPhone or iPad and the entire internet. However, in the spirit of playing along I'll take The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos, and Plants by Georgina Reid with photos by Daniel Shipp. I can lose myself for hours in this book and feel submersed in the magic of other gardeners, their thoughts, and their gardens.

The item 

I was tempted to say a good pair of garden snips, so I can take cuttings and make arrangements. But the more I thought about it I realized I'd want a camera, so I can document the plant life around me on the island.

And the garden I want to visit when I'm off the island?

Chanticleer, a 48-acre botanical garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania (website). I have no idea if the reality will measure up to my ideas of the place, but I can't wait to find out.

Your turn! 

Answer the questions in the comments, or write your own blog post. Come on... play along!

—   —   —

Weather Diary, Dec 28: Hi 46, Low 30/ Precip 0 

All material © 2009-2020 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. I have NO doubt that Chanticleer WILL live up to your expectations... and hopefully surpass them. It is fabulous, indeed.

    Steve B.

    1. Thank you! Now I just have to get there...

  2. I'LL PLAY!!!

    Eight recordings: Too Fast for Love, Shout at the Devil, Theatre of Pain, Girls Girls Girls, Dr. Feelgood, Decade of Decadence, Saints of Los Angeles (all by Mötley Crüe) and Generation Wild (by CRASHDÏET)
    Book: This is a tough one because my favorite changes all the time. But as it stands today I would choose "Magic Lessons" by Alice Hoffman
    Luxury item: Loreal #1 Blue Black hair color (in a 5-gallon drum)

  3. Last week I put together a slide tray of 85 images of our favorite PNW gardens from 2000. Next up will be our east coast faves. I may take part if I can find images that are not slides and/or are copyright free. I would also take a camera. Now I have to go check out those programs.

    1. Oh I hope you do! I would love to see your take on the desert island gardens concept.

  4. All gardens I visit are close to home, (Seattle). The most distant destination was Kew Gardens, decades ago, before I was gardening myself (and therefore on my wishlist list to see again). Any garden (or nursery for that matter!) I'm visiting, is my favorite for that moment. I'll never get tired of touring the UW arboretum, South Seattle College arboretum, Kubota garden, Heronswood and Bellevue Botanical garden.
    A British Garden tour is on my bucket list... once we get off the Corona Virus Island.

    1. The Corona Virus Island... ain't that the truth!

  5. I haven't been to your #1 garden, but the other four are at the top of my list as well.

    1. Have you started reading Jimi Blake's book? I finally started last night and got all giddy when Spokane was mentioned! I wonder if they went to Manito?

  6. Great list. I hope I never have to make the choices for real, as I'd be frozen with indecision! However, Chanticleer is on my bucket list and as it is about a 5-hr drive from here, is doable (post-C, of course).

    1. Five hours!? Get in the car!!! (when it's safe to do so of course)

  7. Sto cercando di fare un giardino di cactus proprio qui! In primavera ci lavorerò :)
    Ti auguro delle buone festività e in piena salute :)

    1. Ah, sounds like a good garden project, good luck! And Happy New Year to you as well.

  8. Most of my public gardens would be "local" too - The Huntington, Sherman (small but packed with ideas), Santa Barbara, and The Getty. The exception would be the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden in DC (also small but packed with great combinations of plants). As to future gardens to visit, I can only say that 3 immediately came to mind: Mendocino, Coastal Maine and Chanticleer - oh, and the Amazon Spheres. If I think about it any longer, the list will only get longer.

    1. Amazing how that list can grow isn't it? Looking at my list I'd think "girl, you need to get out more!"... but I have! I've been to gardens in England and Italy, Toronto, DC, Austin, etc... but my heart is stuck firmly on the West Coast it appears.

  9. Hi Loree. I'm a long-time reader, this may be my first comment. I also grew up in the Spokane area, and love Manito Park. I've also been enjoying Garden Masterclass.

    Here are my five favorite gardens:

    1. Government House Garden, Victoria, British Columbia
    2. Linden Gardens, Kaleden, British Columbia
    3. Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, Washington
    4. Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix, Arizona
    5. VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C.

    It's hard to pick a favorite book, but I'll go with 'Our Life In Gardens' by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd.

    I'll make my item a shovel. How could you live without a shovel?

    1. It was hard to leave the DBG off my list, it's so good! I really want to get back to Bloedel and VanDusen, someday. As for the shovel...good point! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  10. I was lucky to visit Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden while in Cape Town, South Africa on a work trip. This is tops on my list.

  11. Desert Island:
    Digging Dog Nursery display garden, Mendocino County Ca.
    The Lurie Garden, Chicago
    Coastal Maine Botanical Garden,Boothbay (not in winter)
    Ruth Bancroft Garden Walnut Creek Ca.
    The High Line

    Item:Felco #2
    Book: Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis-already read it 20times-could read it 20 more.

    Gardens to visit when I get off the Island : Great Dixter,Jarden Marjorelle,Kirstenbosch

    1. Why didn't I think big for my post-island garden? For some reason I stayed in the U.S...

  12. Sharon StarrDecember 31, 2020

    Great Dixter is always my garden to return to. Fergus Garret has taken Christopher Lloyd’s inspiration to new heights.

  13. This does sound like a neat idea for a blog post..

  14. Oh, this sounded like so much fun that I had to do a post too! Some of the garders I have never heard of, and now my list of places to visit has gotten longer. :)


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