A stroll through the neighbourhood just after seven revealed a dazzle of Christmas lights translated as bokeh by my smartphone.
For me, public gardens are pockets of beautiful stillness. While the rest of the city toils and sweats, these green spaces provide a glorious escape. I remember one unbelievably hot day in NY’s East Village. I must have been either hazy under an excess of sun or spellbound by beauty, because when I stumbled into the shady surrounds of the 9th Street Community Garden Park, I was entranced. The dreamscape conjured up scenes from Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree; I was walking through my very own Wonderland.
That said, Southern California’s lush gardens have a similar effect on me. It is always sunny here after all, so perhaps I’m in a permanent state of bliss. I am known to drag whoever is willing to stroll with me through the manicured gardens of The Getty Villa, Malibu. I even ventured two hours away by train to tour Ganna Walska’s Lotusland in Santa Barbara. Interested to understand their beginnings, I researched and wrote about Southern California’s gardens for this month’s issue of Qantas Australian Way magazine. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:
“During the golden age of American gardens (1890-1940), Southern California looked to the rest of the world for horticultural inspiration, especially the latitude-sharing Mediterranean. Landowners were lured to the booming region and its magnificent climate, their bold displays of wealth immortalised in magnificent manses and cultivated gardens that were grand expressions of their personalities. Oil magnate John Paul Getty’s passion for classical design is reflected in The Getty Villa; socialite Ganna Walska’s Santa Barbara-based wonderland exudes extravagance; while George Fox Steedman’s painstaking attention to detail is evident in the architecturally pleasing garden at Casa Del Herrero.
Egos aside, a turn-of-the-century interest in plant collecting bestowed upon Southern California an array of natural wonders. Gilded Age railroad and real estate mogul Henry Edwards Huntington transformed hundreds of his green acres into a microcosm of the global botanical landscape and sought not only to preserve native and unusual species, but to maintain the grounds in perpetuity for the enjoyment of generations to come.”
Gardens are treasure chests of history and botany, and Southern California is one of the top sources of inspiration for ” the enthusiastic green thumb, serious botanist and pure philocalist.” If you have time to visit some in California, these are my top 10 recommendations:
http://travelinsider.qantas.com.au/usa/california/things-to-do/southern-california-blooming-public-gardens (read this from bottom up — the introduction is written after the top 10 list)
What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I was pounding the pavement under the warm sun, elbow to elbow with Angelenos out for a post-Thangsgiving breather. Today, the sky is moody and dropping rain in intermittent bursts. Outside, overflowing gutters are spluttering from disbelief and exhaustion. The gardens, however, seem to be rejoicing. Goodbye 70 and sunny; hello wintry December.
The Boardwalk is filled with all sorts: break dancers with boomboxes, a 70-year-old clown, quirky creatives, “green” doctors in scrubs, guys on guitar, and tourists galore. We hadn’t planned on spending Thanksgiving evening at Venice Beach but that’s where we’d ended up. Seated at an ocean-facing cafe, we ordered sides of chewy calamari, deep-fried jalapenos, and guac ‘n chips; we cheered to a spectacular sunset with too-sweet mixed drinks. It was pretty close to perfect.
To really see a city means to get up early before chaos renders it opaque. When I worked in Sydney, I’d catch an earlier bus just so I could grab coffee at Starbucks by Wynyard Station and watch the CBD unfurl into busyness. Crossing the Harbour Bridge at that time felt like I was waking up with the Pacific Ocean – I remember how it twinkled under the sun as if blinking it’s way out of a long slumber.
Early-morning walks make for good memories. One day in June, when we lived in New York, my husband and I wanted to dodge the breakfast lines at Clinton Street Baking Co., so we woke with the alarm, drove to the East Village, lucked a parking spot, and scored a table within 20 minutes. The ricotta pancakes soaked in blueberry sauce were divine and coffee never tasted so good (who doesn’t love an early AM jolt?), but what I particularly savoured were those moments walking to the cafe, when we’d had the streets to ourselves and seen beyond the well-trodden footpaths and summer haze that later descended. The village revealed hidden graffiti, artwork painted over unfolded roller doors, and above, fire escapes in an array of colours. The hosed-down pavements reminded us of how beautiful it is to start the day with a clean slate.
In late 2013, I’d made a pact with myself to wake up with the first sunrise of the upcoming new year. We were booked into a Santa Barbara hotel across from the ocean and at dawn on January 1st my husband slept while I, in my bathrobe and sneakers, ventured outside. Through the palm trees, I saw a sky brushed orange and pink. I crossed the street to watch the light ascend and breathed it all in — the salty air, the mist, the light. A few early birds and after-party stragglers still drinking beer were perched along the beach wall. We all shared in the awakening of a brand new year.
I’m flying home to Sydney in a few months’ time and can’t wait to experience its summer mornings; to see the sun-dappled Pacific and to watch the city prepare for the working day as I drink a cup of great Sydney brew. While I doubt I’ll be ordering from the aforementioned Starbucks, I wonder if it is still there. I’ll let you know.