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Walking Tour: Quail Botanical Gardens

May 25, 2010

Windy, cloudy, perfect

Sunday was the perfect day to head down to Encinitas for a visit to the Quail Botanical Gardens. Also known as the San Diego Botanic Garden, the QBG is about 30 minutes from downtown San Diego in the northern part of the county. Its mission statement is “to inspire people of all ages to connect with plants and nature” and I can’t imagine the visitor who would fail to make that connection. We arrived very soon after they opened for the day and it was a very cool, windy, day, with clouds moving swiftly overhead — perfect! QBG is divided into different garden areas; we chose to begin our tour in the cactus/succulent part of the garden, naturally. The scene, above, demonstrates the scale and variety of the plantings there, and it was truly exhilarating to be there.

Sunshine at times

As the clouds moved across the sky, the light of the day would intensify, then cool again. This made colorful plants even more intensely-hued, and added to the thrilling atmosphere.

A bamboo explosion

Moving past the desert, succulent area we were struck by what looked like an explosion of bamboo … and that’s exactly what it was! QBG is home to the nation’s largest collection of bamboo and it’s an awesome feeling to be in the presence of these grassy giants.

There's that guy again

Paul is dwarfed by giant bamboo, moving and creaking in the breeze. The sound was almost metallic in its intensity and its sheer thickness attested to its use as a super-strong building material.

Giant golden grass

Another variety featured trunks in an striking golden hue, striped intermittently with dark green. When the sun broke through the clouds, the light caused their trunks to glow.

Parallel, diagonal, graphic

This grove was thick with upstanding stalks; but there were also others that had fallen, the effect of strong winds, perhaps. The diagonal, contrasting against the vertical, was a living demonstration of graphic tension.

Bound for shimé

At the end of the bamboo area a plaque explained the Japanese concept of shimé. This ancient term describes the concept of binding, and is a metaphor for the creation of something from nothing. To demonstrate the concept, long, thin strands of bamboo are tied together and intertwined through trees creating a beautiful natural sculpture.

The amazing dinner plate

Emerging from the bamboo zone we find ourselves before a plant we’ve never seen before: a dinner plate fig tree. Sporting truly enormous — actually, beyond dinner plate-sized — pleated leaves, this specimen seemed almost alarmingly large. The fruit growing inside the leaves looked less like figs than like trimmed artichokes, with long, pointy stalks pointing upward between them. I’ve never seen a tree with more interesting foliage and fruit.

Spirited succulent sculptures

These spirited, whimsical sculptures can be found in the Mexican garden area. A combination of sweet terra cotta faces, metal accessories and either succulents or ivy, they really set a romantic mood under the trees.

From bark to bottle

The Canary Island portion of the garden featured these quite huge, gnarled cork trees. Looking at them closely it was easy to see how millions of bottles of wine might be corked by a single tree.

Friendly dragons

Another fave of mine, and the symbol of QBG, the dragon tree was very much in evidence. They towered overhead and their multiple arms seemed to reach for the sky. In spite of their great size they were still dwarfed by the taller trees surrounding them and the area seemed virtually primordial.

He's following me

The Australian garden area contained many plants we already knew, some we even have at the Rancho. This one, the bottle tree, surprised us. Its shapely trunk was quite sculptural and I couldn’t help but wonder how I might get one for myself.

Gorgeous day, fantastic views

Following the paths that meander through the different garden areas was delightful and the weather really contributed to that feeling. Each distinct area offered something special. Even though there were other visitors, including children, we rarely encountered them … all in all, our time at QBG was quite peaceful.

Underwater fantasy

Something I wanted to be sure and see while at QBG was the undersea succulent fantasy created by Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents in nearby Solana Beach. I really loved the scale of this charming recreation of undersea terrain and plants using only succulents and lava rocks. Across the way, the children’s area of the garden was being used for a private party and the sounds of happy children went well with the colorful vibe of this installation. I can’t recommend visiting QBG enough: it’s got an amazing array of plants in installations that recall their natural habitats, and a calm and serene vibe and setting. A great day trip for a family looking for something that didn’t include expensive junk food and drink, and theme park detritus (there is an admission fee) …

See something different

and, if you’re interested in seeing what the truly natural landscape of the area looks like, there’s this terrific overlook. Just follow the wooden bridge out to the lookout tower and scan not only the native plants (and animals; lizards and birds are everywhere!) but you can also take in views of the Pacific, sparkling nearby … the QBG’s connection with plants and nature mission is not hard to complete … you’ve just got to go there!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2010 2:33 am

    Look at those huge peurple aeoniums!!! I would love to see the Canary Island area as I dream of visiting there one day! Hopefully it will be in the same trip to Cape Town, SA and surrounding areas as well!!!

    We have a huge Japanese Garden here called Morikami, and the bamboo forest is awesome…it really does make the neatest sounds in the breeze! Gorgeous place you have found…I’m sure you will be back there frequently!!!

  2. May 26, 2010 4:30 pm

    Magnifique, superbe, splendide, extra………
    Can i be teletransported in this paradise, please, Monsieur Reubidoux ?

    • reubix1 permalink*
      May 26, 2010 4:35 pm

      it really is a paradise… I can’t wait to return

  3. November 23, 2010 3:54 am

    It’s a lovely place. On our visit it was too hot to venture far from the very shady area with the big waterfall. Thanks for the tour–a good reminder that we need to get back there soon.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 23, 2010 3:57 am

      It’s almost time for another tour for us; I love being in a cool, wet garden

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