New Orleans returns to "green"

Audubon Park, New Orleans

I went for a long weekend to New Orleans to re-connect with an old friend a few weeks ago, and came back with a whole new perspective. My soul received exactly what it needed... and when one experience ended, so many more incredible ones began. It had been twenty years since my last trip, and while much had changed, there is a spiritual and environmental awakening taking place in souls and parishes all over town. No wonder Sandra Bullock moved here.

Southern Live Oak, Audubon Park, New Orleans

Five years after Katrina, New Orleans is thankfully starting to show signs in the green department--as in growth--although it is sporadic and slow. The tragic Southern Live Oaks that were demolished are being replaced with new ones as well as other shrubs and trees, but it will never look the same, at least not in our lifetime. This is sad yes, but now is a time to focus on what is growing.

Spanish moss drips from oak tree, Audubon Park, New Orleans

Mardi Gras beads in the gloaming, New Orleans

Flowering cabbages under crepe myrtle tree, Garden District, New Orleans

I spent my first full day being spoiled in the Garden District where it cheats you into thinking New Orleans isn't so bad with its over-the-top, shaggy vegetation. As I staggered down Magazine St., visually drunk from the never-ending cascades of Spanish moss and Mardi-Gras beads, I started thinking about what I would write about. I came to re-connect with a friend who was so dis-connected, I ended up immersing myself into the city that seemed to have a lot in common with my own past.

Monkey bar, New Orleans

I spent my first night with a combination of Sauvignon blanc, milky Saki (not so sexy), sushi and lots of lit up shops and bars. It was dark, but I caught a glimpse of a vine covered garden that looked a bit mystical. When I found it the next day covered in more vines, willow branches and some beautiful wrought iron, I saw a sign that said, "Mitch's Flowers." It looked just like my studio garden, a bit untended, though quite shabby chic, with enough unusual botanical elements to make me want to find out what kind of magic was going on inside.

Mitch's Flower Shop, New Orleans

Mitch's Flowers, New Orleans

I walked through the willow arbor and met the ladies responsible for the decadent woodsy outdoor display-- none of whom were named Mitch, by the way. I told them I was a flower spy from the east-coast and lived to discover unusual botanical finds, and they invited me to take as many pictures as I wanted. It was like southern hospitality with a punctuation mark-- I fell instantly in love with their shop, and with them. Their friendliness and enthusiasm caught me off guard, as did their great hand-made oyster plates.

Flower arrangement by Mitch's Flowers

A step inside the cooler gave me even more joy; it was filled with all of the flowers any good floral snob would approve of-- with the added bonus of locally grown items like spirea, viburnum, and dogwood. And their designs? Purely fantastic. A bit high-end and garden oriented, just the way I like them, the perfect balance of nature, color and texture. If you live in the area and are in need of "natural", simply beautiful garden oriented designs, you must call Mitch's, these ladies are doing exactly what they love and it shows in every petal they touch.

Inside Mitch's flowers, New Orleans

My journey continued in the green department with a visit to City Park's Botanical Gardens. Hurricane Katrina did a lot of damage here; a lot of the plants are newly established, which are noticeable to a "green" eye. Still there was much color to be found, and everything was in perfect bloom. The Chinese Fringe trees were among some of my favorites, as were the funky bird houses local artist created in the vegetable garden.

Chinese Fringe Tree, Botanical Gardens, New Orleans

While enjoying some lunch, I had the pleasure to share my table with two interesting women and their adorable niece. Introductions were made and I met Stephanie and Rachel Jordan, two very cool sisters, who are well known fixtures in the New Orlean's jazz scene. Our conversation went from personal to spiritual in the matter of an hour, and I found myself in their car going on a road trip around town. I just love that about the people in this city. Btw- that would not happen where I live, I am sad to report.

Lobelia, Botanical Gardens, New Orleans

As we made our way around the outskirts of the city, any image I had in my mind of the Katrina tragedy was erased after this. Stephanie's once gorgeous neighborhood converted from a lush, tree filled waterfront community, to an open spaced development where abandoned homes are literally across the street. She showed me before and after pictures of her home--it was horrifying to look at, worse than I could imagine, and so terribly final. But she is determined to bring back a home that she once loved so much, and she's accomplishing this all on her own, as so many others are doing as well.

Water lilies, Botanical Gardens, New Orleans

When I left the next day, I felt there was a reason I collided into such a fascinating world of green girl power during my trip. Through gardens and flowers, I met successful, passionate women and learned how strong a city New Orleans really is despite not receiving what it needed to repair and heal. The experience renewed my courage to see things as they are and not delude myself into thinking everything works better with compassion and a band-aid. If the 'new' New Orleans was a season, I would say it should be spring. One of the nicest things about spring is it's unending shades of green and its ability to grow.

A special shout out to Stephanie to plant those day-lilies and to lovely Leslie for showing me around and escorting me to such fun places. May I never drink milk punch again!

Locally made bird house by New Orleans artist

Mitch's Flower Shop unofficial greeter, New Orleans

Storefront, Magazine St., New Orleans


Passport to the World, Philadelphia Flower Show 2010

Balloon created and designed from all flowers, both fresh and dried

It's that time of year when I make my annual trek to the Philadelphia International Flower Show. This year's theme, "Passport to the World", showcased incredibly beautiful botanicals from several different countries as opposed to just one, which has been the case in past years. The countries included: India, South Africa, Brazil, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Singapore. They each featured their prized local flora in unique settings. Vignettes ranged from intricate and detailed such as India's magnificent temple scene; while others chose to focus soley on the flower's individual character, like the tulip fields of the Netherlands.

The show began last week on February 28 and continued until the following Sunday. There were record crowds this year, most likely due to a welcome warm weather pattern after such a fierce winter of the east coast. People came from all over the country and as well as the world; the Philadelphia show is the biggest of its kind in the United States.

In between the exotic world displays sat magnificent annual spring scenes which were provided by local area landscaping companies. Most of the bulb flowers were in full-bloom, filling the large room with mixture of earthly fragrances. We attended the Friday before the show's last weekend, which is usually around the time some flowers start to become overly-ripe or faded. Even with some blooms visibly fatigued, we still caught the fragrance buzz: the intoxicating aroma steered us away from our dismal memories of shoveling 80 + inches of snow, and led us to fields of cherry blossom trees, lilacs and witch hazel.

The local designer displays were the most unusual of their kind this year. Each consisted of hip, industrial scenes and cutting edge designs. Cargo storage containers filled with a variety of unusual flowers created an arresting vision with the juxtaposition of full-bodied, sensuous blossoms against steel walls.

The white flower room was one of the most original displays at the show. Shelves and buckets of flowers were knocked over and askew, creating the illusion of a floral delivery truck accident or a passionate tryst in the cooler. It was a recipe for passion and back-room sex... ok, maybe too graphic? Sorry... but it was a scene so brilliantly executed, we could barely turn away.

Things cooled down around the corner where we were greeted with an artic array of calla lilies suspended from ice boxes and nerine lilies popping up from mounds of artificial snow. Thousands of phalaenopsis orchids were arranged in many places making the snowy scene a bit tropical, but still enticing.

The women's garden club arrangements were more modern than in past years, incorporating flowers and greens from the featured foreign lands. Some of best examples were minimal and striking, using long stemmed tropicals in shorter, cropped designs.

The floral/botanical jewelry section, which is always one of the most popular sections, delivered some of the most creative designs yet. There were bangles and crowns in a variety of periods and styles, all fit for any woodland faerie princess. Each piece lists its elements, which was incredulous when looking at the finished product.

Sample botanical elements used to create some of the jewelry

Bangles created and designed by Mimi Favre

After studying such intricacy, we were ready for the simpler things like the cactus/succulent section. I find this area to be one that attracts either horticulturists or enthusiasts who grew up with these rare, unusual forms. My east-coast friends ended up passing this by, while I captured some of my favorite pics. Although not always 'simple', I find that cacti are very enticing, despite their alien/insect appearance. They certainly pull you in with their textural paradox.

On the way out, I spotted some perfect Lady's Slippers. I never get tired of looking at these orchids; they personify "the woods" to me. I only wish they grew wild in my messy little backyard forest.

The last row of plants had this odd looking fellow, I didn't catch his name, but was taken with his onion-like bulb and hairy stems. Again, a bit alien but very cute.

The only complaint was that the lights surrounding the displays were piercingly bright-- they were so strong that taking pictures was near impossible. The pretty white orchid tree was just too over-exposed to include in this post.

Flowers as fashion

In all, this year's show was very creatively orchestrated and imagined. Known as the "Best Flower Show in America", The Philadelphia International Flower Show more than delivered with its diverse multi-cultural displays, gardening seminars and endless shopping... even a non-gardener could find inspiration and beauty. If you missed it, go next year and bring LOTS of film. It's one of the nicest ways to spend an early March day and get a head start on your gardening plans.

The best things in life are sometimes very small~ I.F.S.



New Mexico's outdoor galleries of beauty, Pt 1

International Flower Spy in the mountains near Bandelier Nat'l Park, NM

Vacations are the best. If you are lucky, they can change you by bringing out your true character, relaxing your soul, and affecting your creative vision--for the positive. As a proud member of the HSP society (Highly Sensitive Persons), I am affected by a place almost instantly, usually always before others. The nuances, vibes and energy can all be detected quickly, making my stay either intensely enjoyable or one of feeling trapped on an island, which can be disastrous.

On bridge over Rio Grande, NM

I was fortunate to avoid the later of these when a friend suggested New Mexico as a vacation destination. After battling an illness for many years, I was finally in healing mode and Santa Fe seemed like the perfect place to regenerate my physical and spiritual energy fields.

Desert and mountains, NM

A long plane ride and drive from Albuquerque later, we arrived in Santa Fe late at night, missing the view I had longed to see. The next day, we drove out of town to Ojo Caliente, for some mineral spring therapy, and that's when it happened. The first stretch of 285 north was enough to distract us from driving. The immediate colors, textures and images were just I like I had heard about but so much more, or just, well, different than anything I had seen. The view was so utterly beautiful and expansive; it almost made us forget where we were. It felt alien, like we were on another planet, and if you are unaccustomed to the southwest like we were, the initial impact is overwhelming.

Holey mountain rock, Batman!, NM

Espanola, NM

The mountains looked as if a knife cut right through them, exposing all the earth’s layers you learned about in middle school science. The sky was endless and a shade of blue that is both electric and reassuring. There was a stillness to the desert and mountains that made me want to get out of my car and investigate immediately. But we continued without stopping to Ojo Caliente. A travelers tip: bathing suits are hard to come by in August in Santa Fe, so make sure to pack one if you plan to go the mineral springs.

Cactus blooms out of rock, Bandelier, NM

After a spiritual cleansing in soda, arsenic, and iron waters, we returned to Santa Fe for one of the best night’s sleep I have had for months. Looking up at the stars while soaking in warm, mineral rich water is an experience I will always savor.

Early blooming turpentine bush, the desert in Espanola, NM

The next day was back to the desert for more sight-seeing. This time we took the time to stop on the side of the road, one of my favorite things in the world to do.

Wild helianthus grows in mountains, NM

While the mountains are indisputably the highlight of the southwest, I was about to discover there was more growing behind the scenes. When we drove out to Espanola, we found the world I was hoping to find—one that lurked in between and underneath the cragged rocks and boulders lining the landscape. I was admiring a touching roadside grave marker/display when I found my first wildflower field.

Close up of roadside flowers, NM

Adjust your gaze downward if you want to be a flower-spy. I discovered flowers and plants I never knew existed in both the desert and the mountains. What I find I love most about the southwest is that it seems to go on forever; just when I thought I had seen my last turpentine bush, another meadow would pop up down the road. Unexpected life grows on and on. My camera was overflowing with images.

A beautiful roadside tribute to family that died, Espanola, NM

Sign on way to Bandelier National Park, NM

A trip to Taos provided even more unanticipated flower finds. After a delicious Tex-Mex fusion meal in town, we walked until our feet stopped us. I located some great late blooming beauties, such as these wisteria pods, pansies and phlox. The city of Taos is sleepy and quaint, with the requisite ‘townie’ gunning a motorcycle engine, just to annoy the tourists. Otherwise, it’s like Santa Fe with all the prolific art galleries and jewelry shops. The people are nice, but not as groovy as those Santa Fe, though.

Sunflowers that looked like a painting against adobe in Taos, NM

Surprising pansies in bloom, Taos, NM

Phlox field in Taos, NM

The ride back from Taos to Santa Fe is about 2 hours and it is monotonous at night. The speed limit varies, and often you are the only car on the road. It makes speeding tempting, but here's an unusual fact, the residents of New Mexico don't really speed, certainly not like they do in my home state of Maryland. As a matter of fact, we discovered the drivers to be some of the most relaxed, courteous people we have ever encountered. It was a welcome break from the daily road-rage that awaited us back home.

Cosmos in sidewalk, Taos, NM

Even though it was dark, I was hoping to spot some wildlife (my companion was not as enthusiastic over this prospect...), but all we encountered on the drive was a tiny coyote and a really fat bunny (hare?). Sorry, no pictures of fauna this trip.

Wisteria pods in Taos, NM

We toured Santa Fe for 3 days. There is a building height restriction, which seems odd at first but makes plenty of sense once you look up at the mountains. The view is panoramic and a high rise would just kill that perspective if it were to be built.

Building covered in dead vine, Santa Fe, NM

As far as altitude adjustments, our primary complaint was lack of sleep and dry skin. This is a state that you must moisturize frequently and drink plenty of water. Otherwise we didn’t suffer like many east coasters do. Besides, the lack of sleep gave us more time to flower spy. Santa Fe has such a diverse selection of flora it's hard to stop taking pictures. In particular, the wisteria trees, not bushes, were all over the place with a few remaining blooms. There were also Oregon grape holly bushes everywhere. The sunflowers were in bloom, including on sidewalks and parking lots. As far as other trees, the pods were in full display especially in the honey locust and golden raintrees, both of which have beautiful pods.

Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), Santa Fe, NM

While these are but a few examples of flowers and plants spied out in New Mexico, there is so much more to discover. It was August when we went, one can only imagine the beautiful finds that spring and fall bring.

A lone wisteria tree blooms in August, Santa Fe, NM

In terms of my overall experience with New Mexico, aside from flower spying, I can say without hesitation, that this is one of the most exquisite and spectacular states I have ever visited. I went to the southwest for healing and peace, and returned inspired and very happy. This is a very spiritual place that is as big as a Georgia O’Keefe painting. Even the smallest blooming finds can seem monumental. New Mexico truly is a gallery of nature and beauty.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides creeps out of Santa Fe sidewalk, NM

Cowskull, Santa Fe, NM

New Mexico Facts:

State Flower: The Yucca
State Bird: The Roadrunner (In Spanish: Correcaminos)
State Capital: Santa Fe, which is the highest capital city in the United States at 7,000 feet above sea level.
Old Building: The Palace of Governors in Santa Fe, built in 1610, is one of the oldest public buildings in America.
History: Native Americans have been living in New Mexico for some twenty thousand years. The Pueblo, Apache, Comanche, Navajo, and Ute peoples were in the New Mexico region when Spanish settlers arrived in the 1600s.
Origin of the Name - Named by the Spanish, in reference to Mexico
State Nickname - Land of Enchantment


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Ristra in Santa Fe, NM

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