What’s in Bloom

Found some interesting ground cover and other flowering “weeds”… not sure what they are, but I’m hoping I can figure it out at some point!

Pretty groundcover… wonder what it is?

A Peek at Peekskill Color

Even with Sandy fast approaching, nothing is going to stop us from heading up the Hudson for an afternoon motorboat excursion. While “peak” leaf-peeping was probably last week, there’s still quite a bit of color closer to the water’s edge… vibrant orange, gold, red, crimson set off by evergreen conifers.

The weather originally called for full sun, but it’s just slightly overcast with the sun coming in and out all afternoon. You can really feel the moisture in the air – in fact, we saw an incredible sight today:  THREE individual rainbows all at once!  One arched across the sky as you would normally see one; the next was a highlight on the side of a neighboring cloud… the last was the most unusual:  Directly overhead, in almost a perfect circle!

On the side…

…and way up high!

Other unexpected and delightful sites included waterfalls running on either side of West Point –

There is a lot of flotsam and jetsam in and along the river, which is running quite brown with silt due to the rains that came earlier in the week; the crew told us that it was perfectly clear last weekend!

You can tell that the storm is definitely being anticipated to be a bad one:  West Point not only had all of their sailing academy boats hoisted out of the water – they were also transported up to the top of the ridge! Even our crew is preparing for the worst: They’re cutting their season short (we’re the last group!), so they can take their boat out of the water today.

Here chicken, chicken, chicken…

Went back to Riverside Park today, trying to locate the tree that had the large growths of chicken mushrooms… unfortunately, it appears that someone has harvested all of them! The entire trunk is scraped up…

But then I stepped back and thought to look up:  About 15+ feet above the sidewalk, there is ONE big mushroom attached to a branch that extends over the promenade. Wish I had some way of reaching it… but I don’t want to climb the tree and I have Riley with me (who’s actually being very well-behaved).

Smart mushroom

Ah well, it was worth the try!

Unexpected Delight

Driving along the NJ Turnpike, headed towards the Lincoln Tunnel, I always seem to find myself gazing at the marsh lands around exit 15W, where the small radio tower is located. Today, I was given an unexpected treat: The tall grasses were completely gone to seed and had turned a soft tannish-gold and dispersed throughout were shorter bushes that were a radiant burgundy. Set against an incredibly blue sky, it was such a striking vista that I was tempted to pull over and take some photos. *Sigh* – perhaps next year!

Let’s get Physick-al!

Last day in the country!  After having breakfast and checking out (poor guy actually had to LIFT my bag in order to store it…!) – I head to Chelsea Physick Gardens, situated in the heart of  Central London.

Cool thing about this Garden is that it’s the oldest botanical garden in London – established in 1673! – and is teeming with a unique living collection of around 5,000 different edible, useful, medicinal and historical plants.

Originally established by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries to not only supply apothocarists, it was also used to train apprentices in the healing arts. Since then, it’s become one of the most important plant exchanges in the world.

I took a tour with one of the Head Gardeners, who has a penchant for only calling the plants by their botanical latin name (time to dust off the brain!) who also explained that the unique microclimate in the garden allows many rare and endangered species to flourish – including the largest fruiting olive tree in Britain, as well as grapefruit and other citrus trees. I bet they’ve got to be among the most northerly OUTDOOR tropical fruiting trees (though who can say, now with global warming!)

All of the trees, shrubs and plants are in full fall color this week – which makes me feel slightly better about missing the leaves back home.

Other interesting factoids:  The River Thames used to abut the garden – apothocarists would simply paddle up the river to the Garden to get their supplies. Now the river has got to be hundreds of feet away… I was told that this was due to the “Big Stink”, which resulted in the city filling in the riverbanks and curtailing industry in that area.

Other fun features:  Their annual rent continues to be  £5 a year, as part of a lifetime trust set up by their last benefactor, Sir Hans Sloane (for whom Sloane Square and Street were named). They’ve got a tropical butterfly exhibit (very cramped quarters… but they have several very large – and spectacular – blue butterflies… gorgeous!)

I’m glad I made the trip!

The Kew is Kewl! (Part 2)

I forgot to mention one key feature of the Palm House that was unexpected – and absolutely a “must see”:  From the Palm House, you can descend a short staircase to view the Aquatic Center… yep! An area devoted exclusively to marine plants and animals! In addition to really cool sand eels, they had a variety of jellyfish that thrives in brackish water… I wanted to take them home with me!

Meanwhile, two of the Kew’s features that I most wanted to see was 1) Sacklers Crossing and 2) the Pagoda.

Set in the Japanese vista, the Pagoda represents the English fascination with chinoiserie – and you can take a really long grass walkway from the Palm House right up to its front door. Framed by ancient trees, all in color, and softened by English fog, it really is an amazing sight.

View down Pagoda Walk, from the Palm House

Meanwhile, Sacklers Crossing represents the “S” curve found in nature and it wasn’t until I was standing on it that I realized how it had been constructed.  Just me and the 20 or so ducks and swans that afternoon… careful watched from a distance by two grooming peahens. I could get used to this!

Sackler’s Crossing at Kew

Next up was the Temperate House, which apparently is the world’s largest surviving Victorian glass structure… and it, too, is spectacular. About the same size as the Palm House – it also features an elevated walkway – it used to be the largest glasshouse on Earth (if that helps give you some perspective).

Speaking of ‘perspective’… here’s the Temperate House as seen from the elevated walk! If you squint, you might see central London in the background…

Behind it, I got to experience the Evolution House, which was actually a really interesting installation that literally walks you through the evolution of the planet from when Earth was first formed. You walk down an ever-changing path until you’re in ‘contemporary’ time period. I definitely recommend it – but maybe not if it’s really crowded. (I was there alone!)

From the Pagoda, I headed over to the Shirley Sherwood Collection gallery, which houses one of the most amazing collections of botanical art I have ever seen… from antique prints to contemporary artists. I ended up buying a gorgeous book entitled “The Art of Plant Evolution” which uses artworks from the collection to outline the plant kingdom… truly fascinating and beautiful!  (I also managed to carry home “A Treasury of Botanical Art” by Shirley Sherwood, which showcases a few hundred items from her collection – which numbers in the thousands.) Totally worth the sore shoulders! 😉

The old gallery

Among my favorite works we several watercolors of mushrooms done by Alexander Vizmensky – simply breathtaking!

Devil is in the details!

Last then it was time for me to start making my way back towards the train station… the park was closing in 20 minutes! The best part:  I’ve only covered about 1/3 of the Gardens!  So I will definitely need to come back…

The Kew is Kewl! (Part 1)

Today I attempted Kew Gardens… and though the weather is a bit overcast and foggy – I’ve got to say that it was definitely worth the trip!

The next to last stop on the Richmond line (or you can take the overground) – the garden is a short walk from the train station in an adorable little center of shops and cafes. One of my favorites:

After browsing a bit, I made my way down a residential street towards the Gardens’ Victoria Gate entrance. Cool thing: the entire street was lined predominantly with London Planes – all of which were pollarded! In fact, about 2/3 the way down the street, there was a tree company cutting one Plane that looked like it had been allowed to grow unabated this year.  Surprisingly, the front yards in many of the houses were pretty simply planted… you would think that there would be some competition to have the best-looking front yard with such proximity to the garden!

Upon entering the Gardens, I made a beeline to the Palm House, which was to close at 2pm that day. Apparently, they’ve found an invasive bug in the conservatory and spend the afternoon cutting back affected plants. Now, having been in the greenhouse, I can completely appreciate the amount of work this would entail!

The conservatory is literally 2-stories; you can ascend to a catwalk via circular staircase on either end of the main room… which offers an amazing overhead view of plants that are literally stories tall! http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/garden-attractions-A-Z/Palm-House.htm

The Palm House

One of my favorite plants was a cycad that Kew believes to be “the oldest potted plant” in England… it was brought to the Gardens just as it was being established – more than 200 years ago! – and has remained in the Palm House ever since. Here it is:  http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/garden-attractions-A-Z/eastern-cape-giant-cycad.htm.

As much as you can not appreciate the English penchant for grabbing antiquities etc. to bring back to Britain – you have to kind of admire how rich their collections are!

From there, I visited the Water Lily conservatory – in which they feature a huge assortment of water lilies, including the Giant waterlilies (Victoria amazonica) – a variation on the immense water lilies found in Brazil, but were bred to “fit” the pond here, in honor of Queen Victoria.  You can see them here: http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/garden-attractions-A-Z/giant-waterlilies.htm.

Moving on, I headed towards the western end of the Gardens via Holly Walk – which used to be the main thoroughfare for residents moving between central London and Richmond. Now, it’s home to more than 60 varieties of holly – truly spectacular!

Tucked just north of Holly Walk is one of Kews’ most progressive installations: The Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway!  Offering an elevated view of the Gardens about 3 stories above the ground, you’re eye level with the tree canopy of several varieties of chestnut trees, etc. What was kind of cool is that I’ve never really seen chestnut fruit clusters from this angle; the “fruit” that had opened and expelled their seed looked like white flowers to me at first – but upon closer inspection I realized that I was simply looking at the inside of the pericarp!

The elevated walkway

More to come with Part II….