This past weekend my husband, Tom, and I spent an afternoon wandering through the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, enjoying the rare chance to sneak away and visit a different world for awhile.
I have a confession – while I’ve been there at least a half dozen times in my life and, yes, it’s truly a jaw-dropping historic building (the oldest public glass & wood greenhouse in North America, built in 1877), I’ve never really been a huge fan of tropical and exotic plants.
But maybe it’s the fact that my world has been turned upside down the past few months (thanks to my cancer diagnosis) or that I seem to spend the majority of my time feeling pretty crummy. But whatever the reason, it’s as if I’ve seen this place for the first time. It was stunning, breathtaking and filled my soul to the brim. Exactly what the both of us needed.
And, as luck would have it, a new special exhibit called Aquascapes had just opened a few days before which helped to further transport my mindset and imagination. I’ll first show you my favorites from the special exhibit, followed by a few particularly beautiful plants that are in their glory right now.
Aquascapes: The Art of Underwater Gardening
While the concept of aquascaping is new to me, the Dutch have been practicing this form of art since the 1930’s. While the Dutch focused on the watery landscape, often overfilling the tank with plants that left little room for fish, in the 1990’s Takashi Amano took this art to a whole new level.
Using Zen-like principles of thoughtful placement of stone, wood and only a few species of plants and fish he took the traditionally overcrowded tank and created minimal, yet stunning, works of art. Not surprisingly, thanks to Amano’s work there are now several world-wide competitions that are based not only on the aesthetics but the viability of the aquascape.
North America Region
Are they fish or birds flying over giant mountains made of Seriyu stone?
The Moss Balls (which are actually algae) are naturally occurring and quite rare. Found in freshwater lakes in Japan, Scotland, Iceland and Australia, the rolling motion of the waves gives the balls their unique shape and velvety texture.
In this creation, manzanita and Seriyu stone is used. Manzanita is often used in aquascapes to represent tree roots, overhanging branches or fallen trees. The dead wood is slow to decay, lasting for years and years, as well as chemically neutral so as not to harm the fish and plants.
South America Region
Using Malaysian driftwood, manzanita and a combination of all the stones listed above to create a dense Amazonian landscape.
If you’re interested in learning more about the exhibit’s plant, the conservatory has an excellent site here.
The Conservatory Highlights
Wandering through the rest of the conservatory was a feast for the senses: the warm and steamy atmosphere a lovely contradiction to the chilly temperatures outside, plants with preposterous proportions, the craziest color combinations you could ever imagine on a single leaf, and the flowers.
Dutchman’s Pipe flowers were everywhere, each one different and more fascinating than the next. Clearly, I couldn’t get enough of them!
This is the Fanged Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes bicalcatarata). While botanists aren’t entirely sure of the fang’s purpose (the toothy protrusions running along the side of the plant), some think they’re strategically placed to lure insects to the top of the lip where they’ll certainly fall to their watery death.
One of my favorites is this Nepenthes lowii that has cleverly adapted to its native home in Borneo. Only a small population of insects live in this region, but this pitcher plant doesn’t seem to mind.
This plant has developed the ability to create its own white protein-rich substance on the side petal to attract birds and shrews to sit and perhaps take a bite. As the birds land to feast, they poop right into the plant, providing much-needed nutrients.
It wasn’t just the pitcher plants that stole the show – here are a few more of my favorites:
And one last flower.
The artwork and meticulous details throughout the Conservatory also help to make this such a special experience.
The end wing of the Conservatory houses the aquatic plants.
I’m thrilled to offer you the chance to win this beautiful 48″ teak bench, compliments of the kind folks at Teak Closeouts. Just leave a comment below and using a random number generator, I’ll pick a random winner by midnight, November 26th. It’s that simple!
Oh, and please remember that I won’t be able to respond to your comments as it’ll skew the system I use to pick the number (but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading what you all write, because I do!)
UPDATE: Congrautlations to Anita Franzi – you won the teak bench! I’ve sent you an email, but just in case you didn’t receive it send me your mailing address and we’ll get this beautiful bench to you asap! Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂
A few more details: The winner will be randomly chosen by midnight, November 26th, and contacted within 24 hours. If the proposed winner forfeits or does not claim the prize by December 1, the prize will be re-awarded based on the sponsor’s sole discretion. Please provide your name and email to enter this contest, so I can immediately contact you if you win. The winner agrees to allow his/her first name to be mentioned in conjunction with this giveaway.
This giveaway is limited to the contiguous 48 states in the U.S. residents only to those who are over the age of 18 years old. No purchase necessary to win. This sweepstake is void where prohibited by law (not exactly sure where this might be, but I’d sure hate to live there). By entering this giveaway, you agree to these conditions.
Best of luck everyone!