Monday, April 12, 2021

THE GARDEN OF FLOWERING FRAGRANCE: Chinese Garden at the Huntington, San Marino, CA by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

 52 Places to Go: Week 15

Zigzag Bridge in the Chinese Garden, The Huntington, San Marino, CA
In the Chinese Garden at The Huntington, in San Marino, California, the exotic plants, beautiful small lake, complex of pavilions, tea house and tea shop, stone bridges, and waterfalls, make one feel transported to another time and place. Built in the style of traditional scholar gardens in Suzhou, China, it is the perfect harmony of nature and architecture.
Tea House
On a recent warm afternoon, Art and I went there with a friend, beginning our visit with a delicious lunch from the garden restaurant of pot stickers, wontons, and a rice bowl, which we ate outdoors on the patio at the edge of the lake. (There were also tables inside the tea house.) We watched a pair of geese swim while colorful koi glided through the shallow water below. A heron flew overhead.(The Huntington gardens are are great place for bird watching.)
Flowering tree
Around us, trees were beginning to blossom, and along the paths plants were covered with bright flowers. The Chinese name of the garden, Liu Fang Yuan, means Garden of Flowing Fragrance and the look and smell of spring was everywhere.
Stone bridge is framed by a wooden window
After our lunch we circled the lake, stopping to admire the view from the various bridges and pavilions. In typical Chinese style, windows of the structures were designed to frame the view and were works of art in themselves.
Pavilion of The Three Friends is seen through the waterfall
At each turn there were views to admire. On one side of the garden a waterfall tumbled over a ledge and had a walkway underneath. On the other side of the lake, water cascaded down the hill creating a small stream.
This natural stone sculpture is titled Patching Up the Sky
Throughout the garden groups of rocks have been artfully arranged to create miniature landscapes. And everything is named--from the buildings, to the sculptures, to the groves of trees. (The Pavilion of The Three Friends seemed like the perfect spot for a picture of the three of us.) Throughout the garden benches were strategically place for resting and enjoying the view. And although there were quite a few other people strolling the paths, the garden felt tranquil and evoked a sense of peace.
Water lilies grow on the 1.5 acre lake
The Huntington, originally the estate of railroad magnate Henry Huntington, is famous for its library of rare manuscripts and its art collection, as well as its many gardens. I have been to the Huntington numerous times, but it is so big  there is never enough time to see everything in one visit. The Chinese garden is a relatively recent addition.  (It opened to the public in 2008.)  I had not had a chance to visit it before so this was an ideal opportunity.
Lattice window looks out of the garden
Afterward, we visited the Japanese garden, with its raked stone zen garden and amazing collection of bonsai, strolled through the rose garden, just bursting into flower, stopped to take a look at the exhibits in the Dibner Hall of the History of Science (with its display of 250 copies of Darwin’s Origin of Species in its many editions and translations), and ended our day with a walk through the Desert Garden, where the cacti and succulents were in glorious bloom. I’m glad I finally had a chance to visit the Chinese garden. It was the perfect beginning to a spring afternoon at the Huntington.

For information about visiting the Huntington, click HERE.
Walkways in the Chinese Garden are created with a mosaic of dark and light stones  
This article was originally published in 2019.
All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold.

Monday, April 5, 2021

IMAGINARY WORLDS at the Atlanta Botanical Garden by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

52 Places to Go: Week 14

Peacock living sculpture inside the orchid house at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

(Note: This article was originally posted in July 2018. For information on current exhibits and visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden, check their website.)

A fearsome dragon, a caravan of camels, a spectacular peacock and a giant Earth goddess, all created from living plants, are just a few of the many delights of the Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time exhibit in the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The exhibit is mounted in partnership with the International Mosaiculture of Montreal.

Chiluly glass sculpture, fountain at the Levy Parterre
In May, on a brief trip to Atlanta, I had the morning free and decided to visit the Botanical Garden, located in Piedmont Park, about a twenty-minute walk from my hotel in Mid-town. It was a beautiful sunny day and I joined other visitors and numerous school groups touring the garden.
Detail of Dragon sculpture; plants are plugged into a metal framework stuffed with planting mixture
The pieces in the exhibit are positioned throughout the garden along with the permanent plantings. They are created with a process known as mosaiculture. Mosaiculture first became popular in Europe in the 16th century as wealthy landowners commissioned elaborate three-dimensional gardens, or “embroidery beds,” for enjoying up close or at a distance. (By the late 1860's, the term “mosaiculture” was used for the first time in France, referring to the mosaic-like appearance of the surfaces of planted sculptures.)
Once Upon a Time "Storybook"
After purchasing my ticket and entering the garden I was greeted by the Storybooks sculpture. There I opted to go left toward the rose garden, great lawn and greenhouses. At the edge of the great lawn a huge dragon, who appeared ready to take flight, dominated the scene.
Dragon, mounted in the rock garden
From there I made my way toward the orchid center. On much of my tour I ended up following a school group taking a docent guided tour. At the Bogs and Poison Plant garden the kids were squatting on the ground trying to get a close-up looks at the Venus fly-traps and poking them with sticks to try to get them to snap shut.
The orchid house is truly spectacular, with orchids of every size, shape and color. In the center was a giant peacock, part of the Imaginary World exhibit.
Earth Goddess at the Cascades Garden
I then circled back to the entrance passing through the peaceful Japanese garden and taking the bridge to the Kendeda canopy walk where I got a view of the Earth Goddess presiding over the refreshing Cascades Garden. She has become a permanent feature of the Botanical Garden. The rest of the sculptures except for the Shaggy Dog are temporary.

On my way back to the entrance I almost missed the mammoth with its giant tusks, peeking through the greenery. For a moment, I thought it was real!

Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time was on view May-October 2018.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is currently open to visitors but with limited capacity. Timed tickets and Covid rules are in place.
For more information go to

Monday, March 29, 2021

BACK YARD WILDLIFE, Guest Post by Karen Minkowski at The Intrepid Tourist

52 Places to Go: Week 13

Hooded oriole (male)

My friend Karen Minkowski, a dedicated wildlife watcher and keen photographer, has made the most of her Covid confinement by discovering the wealth of wildlife in her Southern California back yard. I thank her for sharing her observations and wonderful photographs with The Intrepid Tourist.

2020 was the year my hiking shoes didn’t get much use…

I stopped walking in LA’s Santa Monica Mountains shortly before the March lockdown was imposed and after that didn’t leave my rented home much at all. Soon, I turned my attention to our suburban backyard, a patch of boring grass partly surrounded by tall mature trees with dense foliage and low maintenance non-native plants. Like millions of other people in their homes, I discovered that my backyard was a safe place to try to connect with a tiny bit of the natural world. And over the next year I saw more wildlife in the yard than I ever expected.

Black phoebe

The diversity of bird species that pass
through the yard is impressive. Some, like this Black Phoebe, visit almost daily. They perch out in the open to ensure a straight flight path to air-borne insects or those hiding in the lawn. Many birds forage in the trees, obscured by the foliage and moving too rapidly for me to capture a clear image, either in my mind or with the camera.


Crows are common, noisy and highly visible. Here’s one about to feed a begging

Eastern fox Squirrel

The ubiquitous Eastern Fox Squirrels are
an introduced (non-native) species in southern California. Their ability to thrive in fragmented habitat has led to the displacement of the Western Gray squirrel, which requires mostly undisturbed wooded or forested areas and now occupies the foothills and mountainous areas. Nonetheless, Fox Squirrels are fun to watch as they dig up edibles buried who knows when from caches they’ve dug in the ground; tumble as they chase each other across the lawn; gnaw on a fallen clothespin; or stretch along a tree limb to soak up the morning sun.


Early in the pandemic’s
first spring we spotted an opossum. As I photographed it over the next half hour, it seemed more curious than wary as it watched me. I never saw it again.

Hooded oriole (female)

In April the very vocal Hooded Orioles were likely breeding in the neighbors’ palm
trees. I would see them mostly when they were foraging. They remained in the area for several weeks before migrating south.

A Jacaranda tree dominates the backyard. 

Allen's hummingbird and jacaranda blossoms

Bee feeding on jacaranda blossom

Squirrel eating jacaranda flower

It bloomed in early spring, and by May its purple
blossoms were falling, providing food for at least three different families of animals: Allen’s hummingbird and honeybees drink the nectar, while squirrels ingest the whole flower.

Lesser goldfinch

During late spring and summer I often stood on
a ladder to watch birds in the neglected backyard of the house next door. Filled with flowering weeds, it attracted seed-eaters like this young Lesser Goldfinch (above) and the House Finch (below). 

House finch

One summer morning a bulldozer destroyed this productive patch of
suburbia gone wild, which is now almost completely covered by a construction project to extend and enlarge the existing house.

Cooper’s hawk. This common raptor in the San Fernando Valley nests here beginning in late-March.

For a few days in July a beautiful juvenile
Cooper’s hawk hung out in the backyard.

Allen's hummingbird.

In July I hung a hummingbird feeder and have enjoyed seeing Allen’s hummingbirds many times a day since then.

One early morning in autumn the crows were cawing relentlessly. I went outside to see what was disturbing them and glimpsed the silhouette of what resembled a large house cat high up in a tree. 

Great-horned owl

But something about the shape didn’t seem quite cat-like, and soon the increasing light revealed that we had a spectacular Great-horned Owl in our backyard. The owl rested here for a good twelve hours, rarely moving from its perch and seemingly unperturbed by the incessant vocal harassment of the crows, perched as close as six feet away. Next morning the owl was gone. Months later I still check the tree, awaiting its return.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Winter arrived… Occasionally I spot “new” bird species, like this lovely Yellow-rumped warbler.
It paused just long enough for me to snap its portrait as it darted quickly in search of insects, the winter diet for many omnivorous birds.

Bushtit, another insect eater.

Cedar waxwing

As winter began to wane and vaccines arrived my feet were
itching to walk through forests and woods. 

One day I put on my hiking shoes and drove to Franklin Canyon. Below are a few images of my first 2021 forays.

Red-shouldered hawk

Ruby-crowned kinglet. (The crown is seen only when a male becomes excited during the breeding season.)

California thrasher, singing his lovely song after the rain had stopped.

I still check my backyard, but
enjoying much more my return to LA’s more natural environments.

Monday, March 22, 2021

BIRDS, BEACH AND SUN: A Spring Weekend in La Jolla, CA, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

 Week 12: 52 Places to Go

Surfers and gulls at La Jolla Shores, California
Until I moved to California I never knew how to pronounce La Jolla, the name of the beach town just north of San Diego famous for swimming, surfing and beautiful ocean views, not realizing the “j” sounds like “h” and the two “l’s” are like a “y”. The correct pronunciation is “ la hoya”.
Hang gliders above La Jolla
Brown pelicans
On a warm weekend in March 2018, Art and I spent a weekend at La Jolla Shores and enjoyed walking along the sand, exploring tidepools, and observing birds and seals from the cliff top path at nearby La Jolla Cove.
Cliff top path at La Jolla Cove
On our first day, we headed north along the sand toward the Scripps pier. (The buildings of the Scripps Research Institute are on the bluff above.) Fleets of pelicans zoomed overhead, sharing the sky with hang gliders, who had launched themselves just up the coast at Torrey Pines. The tide was out and flocks of gulls and shorebirds patrolled the water’s edge looking for tidbits in the sand.
Marbled Godwits
Beyond the birds, where the waves were breaking, surfers in wetsuits waited for the next big wave.  We stayed dry. It was early spring and the water was cold--although apparently not for swimmers we saw making their way between the buoy markers.
It was a great day for photography. Broken shells, bits of seaweed, and even a jellyfish had washed up on shore, creating nature's own abstract compositions.
Nature as artist--one stone with kelp washed up on the sand
On the next day, we went in the other direction, following the path along the top of the cliff at La Jolla Cove. Hundreds of cormorants perched on the rocks below, many of them tending nests.
This Brandt's cormorant has three hungry chicks to feed
We continued around the point and walked to Children’s Beach, now taken over by seals and sea lions. 
Sea Lions enjoying the sun. (Sea lions have external ears; seals do not.)

People are no longer permitted to use Children's Beach, but a walkway along the breakwater provides a close look at the animals–who were mostly sleeping and enjoying a warm day in the sun--just as we were.As we looked down from the walkway, we could see our shadows next to the tidepools.
For my report on a previous visit to Jolla Cove, see my post for February 10, 2014.

  All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold