by germinatrix | October 17th, 2009
You all know about my big project in Mexico – a big chunky paradise-garden in the Yucatecan deciduous jungle. Well, I was recently organizing my photos (which I’ve done exactly once in my lifetime) when I came across some images that showed me that I’d been preparing for this garden for much longer than I thought! And I didn’t venture very far from home to do it – It happened during a trip to lovely San Diego, California, in the amazing Lathhouse in Balboa Park.
They call it the Botanical building, but I call it the “lathhouse” because that’s what it is – a classic (if very ornate) structure made of lath to create a microclimate favorable to tropical plants. The structure differs from a greenhouse or glasshouse because it isn’t totally enclosed – there is a constant flow of air between the slender boards (lath) that it is built out of. The boards, spaced closely together, create a dappled shade (similar to a jungle or forest canopy), and protect the large leaves inside from harsh winds and other weather calamities. There is more humidity in the lathhouse; it’s warm and lush and it smells very, very alive.
The inside of the building is full of incredible tree ferns and lace ferns and mother ferns and every manner of fern you could ever want to see! Simple raised beds made of brick contain what must be very rich soil, and visitors wander around reverentially, taking photos and whispering about whatever specimen is before them. And then a mob of schoolchildren tear through, playing balance beam on the edge of the beds and trying to pick the orchids. Thank goodness for teachers and helper-Moms! I tried to give a stern look, but if I was a kid, I’d be doing the same thing! In fact, I think I actually WAS doing the same thing (with the exception of attempted orchid-picking)! It was all so jurassic and tempting!
I love working with contrasting textures in a garden. My favorite plantings play with big leaves and tiny leaves, rubbery agaves are tickled by needle-y junipers, the grassy is cuddled up with the strong and spiky. I’d assumed that the overall look of a tropical garden was going to be big green leaves, with occasional splashes of crazy color. The examples in the lathhouse show a different story – there are so many textures in a tropical palette other than big and rubbery. There is feathery, spiky, airy – and then the COLORS!
One of the many garden spaces in the Yucatan project I am REALLY excited about is a tillandsia / bromeliad garden … we are using the existing trees in a space very close to the main house to create a hanging garden of bromeliads and tillandsias, leaving the space underneath available for outdoor entertaining. The idea of the parasitic is being explored in many ways in this project, and this is going to be a glorious representation of beautiful plants that use others as hosts. Lotusland has incredible bromeliads and tillandsias, but I am absolutely MESMERIZED by the way they are displayed here in the lathhouse at Balboa Park.
The moment above captures a real beauty, but the idea of decay is never far away. I LOVE THAT! These plants live on the carcasses of trees, they capture water and mist and nutrients from falling leaves, and they look FABULOUS doing it!
I was taken aback when I found these images in my files – I’ve been doing so much research so far afield, and here were many of the ideas that I was playing with, just a hop, skip, and a jump down the freeway!
If anybody is in the San Diego area, I encourage you to spend an afternoon in Balboa Park - it is beautiful and is home to some great old architecture and several interesting museums. And enjoy the Botanical Building (because if you look for ‘the lathhouse’ nobody will know what you’re talking about, that’s just MY name for it)!
Inspiration – sometimes it hides, and makes itself known exactly when you need it!