Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Beauty of Spring--A Blossoming Fringetree

Here in coastal North Florida, our azaleas are already dropping petals, and the wonderful flowering bulbs I grew up with in Michigan, like tulips and daffodils, do not flourish. However, we are enjoying our second round of spring flowering. I hope that wherever you are (except for my southern hemisphere friends, that is :>), you are beginning to see signs of spring emerging.
When we added a cutting garden of strictly native plants last year, the fringetree a landscape designer recommended was past its blooming time of the year. Given his description and the pictures in our North Florida native plants books, we eagerly looked forward to seeing our little fringetree sapling in bloom this year. It has truly exceeded our expectations, with bright white clusters of fragrant, wispy hanging blossoms that almost seem to glow against darker green foliage behind them.
For those interested, Gil Nelson, in Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants, describes this as a slow growing small tree which can live over 50 years and is "among the most trouble-free small landscape trees". It also bears a blue, olive-like fruit that attracts birds. According to Nelson, although it is most often seem in traditional southern landscapes, its range extends from Pennsylvania and New Jersey on down to North Florida and west into Texas. The botanical name is Chionanthus virginicus. Perhaps some of you are familiar with this tree; it is a completely new delight for me.
Question of the day: What are your favorite spring flowers or flowering trees? Are you seeing signs of spring where you are?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beautifully Restored Native American Mission--Mission San Xavier in Tuscon, Arizona

While we were in the Tuscon area, we and our friends visited Mission San Xavier, a lovely old Catholic mission on what is still a Native American reservation. Restoration work on this National Historic Landmark seemed nearly completed, and it is stunning. Constructed in a Spanish Colonial Baroque style in the late 1700s, the church still carries on an active worship and community service ministry. Decorated and gessoed sculptures and wall paintings glow in the cool interior, although the angle of the sun made photography challenging while we were there--some areas too bright and sun-washed and others too dark. A couple of my interior photos are clear enough to show you the color, painstaking detail, and interesting subject matter (a blend of Biblical and colonial themes) of the sanctuary and masonry, dome-like vaults. Another photo shows some of the native plant landscaping near a small side chapel. Inside the chapel, memorial icons and pictures, some quite recent and some very old, honor those who have been buried from this church, as the sight and scent of many dozens of candles quiet visitors who pause inside.
Question of the day: Have any of you participated in restoration work? I think it must be fascinating.
Thank you to all of you who continue to visit. I apologize that circumstances continue to make my posting less frequent that I would like, and I am grateful for your understanding.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Enjoying a Radical Change of Scenery--Visiting Tuscon, Arizona

We recently returned from a visit to friends who winter north of Tuscon, Arizona--the first time I had seen any part of that state south of the Grand Canyon. It would be difficult to imagine a more radical change of scenery from our lush, water-rich coastal North Florida home than this area. Stately Saguaro cacti, every one branching differently, tower over most of the dry vegetation (at least it was very dry in early March). Prickly pear flourish, with paddles in yellow and even purple as well as green. Rough mountain ranges rise several thousand feet above the already high desert landscape.
Our friends treated us to some of their favorite sights, including a drive up Mount Lemmon and a visit to a local park that featured native plants in a natural setting. The photos represent a small sample of the interesting vistas in these two attractions. Later, I will post photos of a visit to a beautiful old mission.
Although I love the ocean, rivers, creeks, swamps, and salt marshes in our home area, the desert has always fascinated me. The unique life forms that adapt to conditions in all the various types of deserts I have visited are amazing--though it requires patience and deep quiet to spot the animals. However, I must confess that it is difficult for me to imagine living or staying long-term in this arid land. We happily drank in the green, green sights of home after our journey.
Question of the day: Do you also return home from travel more grateful for home than ever?