San Antonio Botanical Garden

You somehow get the feeling, as soon as you walk through the entrance to the San Antonio Botanical Garden, that you’re in for a treat. Despite it probably being the hottest day of our trip to Texas, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see this magnificent display of plants and flowers, especially since it was on our Chicago Botanic Garden membership reciprocal list.


Just the sheer novelty of seeing cacti growing outside rather than in a greenhouse was well worth braving the scorching temperatures.  The Garden covers some 40 plus acres and was first opened to the public in 1980.

The Garden is a remarkable place to see nature in all its diverse splendor and makes a wonderful living classroom in which to learn about the conservation of these magnificent plants and their natural habitat in what can sometimes be a harsh and unforgiving climate.


Every turn in the path provided a new and awesome landscape, so strange to our eyes, accustomed as we are to our usual bill of fare here in the Midwest. “Look but don’t touch” was definitely the order of the day when it came to many of these prickly characters.

 

We took in this view overlooking the city of San Antonio on our way down the path to even more garden delights that I look forward to sharing with you in the next post.

I add this interesting little footnote regarding wildlife; I had hoped to see lots of lizards and suchlike running around the Garden, especially in the more natural areas, but surprisingly we didn’t come across anything which was a bit of a disappointment.  The only lizard we saw during our trip to Texas was this one, I suppose you could call him a lounge lizard, basking on a chair by the pool back in Houston.

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Whistling Ducks and Dancing Turtles

Hermann Park covers some 445 acres and is one of the oldest public parks in Houston.  It features an enormous reflecting pool, various gardens including a beautiful Japanese Garden, a recreational lake and a golf course. The park is also home to the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theater and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.



As always seems to be the case when we are on the road, our time in Houston was all too short, so we weren’t able to explore the entire park but we took in as much as we possibly could, given our tight schedule and the extreme heat which made walking any great distance rather a chore.  And I have to admit that I was on a mission. I was looking for a duck. And not just any old duck.

When our daughter and her husband first moved to Houston they sent us a blurred picture and a brief description of a rather unusual bird that they’d seen in Hermann Park. After some research we determined that what they’d probably come across was a whistling duck, which actually isn’t a duck at all, although it appears to be part of a subfamily that includes ducks, geese and swans. Not to be outdone and being a bit of a smart-arse, I sent them a picture, telling them that we had our own whistling ducks here in Chicago.

But this exchange of pleasantries got me thinking that if we ever visited Houston I would go in search of their whistling duck and see for myself what this bird was all about. And sure enough there, snoozing by McGovern Lake in Hermann Park, it was. It was apparently too weary to whistle but it afforded me the opportunity to get up fairly close, or as close as I was prepared to get to any bird, and capture some images. 

Having seen the whistling ducks we moved on to the Japanese Gardens where we saw some dancing turtles. At least, they appeared to be dancing.  With the temperatures at approximately 95 degrees in the shade, I imagine the rocks in the pool were getting pretty darned hot and the turtles, who were loath to give up their place in the sun, had to keep moving their feet or flippers or whatever they’re called, so as not to get scorched. These two seemed to coordinate their movements rather like dancing partners. They were soon joined by a third who wanted to get in on the act, while others watched from the bank, picking up tips on style and presentation, and another, who appeared to be the judge, got a closer view from a nearby vantage point.



Despite the heat, it was quite pleasant walking around the Japanese Gardens since much of it was in the shade. However, time and tide wait for no man and this visit, with its whistling ducks and dancing turtles, signaled our farewell to Houston as we would soon be on our way to San Antonio.


Distracted

Very often, when I visit the Chicago Botanic Garden, I tell myself that this time I’ll concentrate my photography on one particular area of the garden, not go wandering about willy-nilly snapping random pictures as I go.  It never works! It’s impossible to stick to the plan when there are so many things to distract me.  To give an example, this is how things went when I visited there last week.

“Okay, I’m going to head straight to the English Walled Garden this morning and I’m going to photograph the living daylights out of it!  Every flower, every shrub from every conceivable angle! But while I’m here I might as well get a few shots of the Esplanade and I have to go through the Heritage Garden anyway so I’ll take a few shots there too.”

“I’ll just get a closer look at these flowers, and ooh, look, there’s a chipmunk under here!”


“Right! Now! Straight to the English Garden! But we have to go past the Rose Garden. Oh, what the heck! I’ll only be a few minutes.”

“Now, right turn here.  No, that’s wrong. I should have turned left! Never mind. I’ll just have a quick look in the Circle Garden.”

 

“Now to get back on track, if I go down here past the Enabling Garden…..”

“What’s this sign say?  Corpse Flower! Well, I’ll have to see that while I’m down this way.”

“Mmm. Interesting! Okay, well it seems a pity to come this far out of our way and not see the Sensory Garden and if we take the path along there we’ll come out by Evening Island and ….”

“If we sit here for a while we’ll hear the bells.”

“Now, over the bridge and …… oooh look! Here comes the dredger! I’ll just follow its progress for a little way, past the Waterfall Garden….”



“Now how on earth did we manage to end up back in the Rose Garden?  Oh well, it won’t hurt to take this way back to the English Garden. Almost there!”


“See! I told you! Here we are at the English Walled Garden!  Good gracious! Is that the time already? Well I’ll just take a few shots while we’re here.”

 

 


“Next time I’ll concentrate on the Circle Garden for sure! No wandering around!”

And that’s how it goes.

McGovern Centennial Gardens


One of the great things about traveling, especially if you go any great distance from home, is that you get to see something different in the way of plants and flowers. Whenever we find ourselves somewhere that is new to us, one of the first things we do is look for any kind of public gardens and, when we visited Houston recently, McGovern Centennial Gardens was one of the places on our itinerary.  It was quite a novel experience for us to see plants growing outside that we would normally only see in a greenhouse here in Chicago.



The flowers were just gorgeous despite the lack of any recent rain and the scorching temperatures!


And even the flowers that were familiar to us seemed so much bigger in Texas, naturally!


From the Cherie Flores Garden Pavilion you get a good view of the Centennial Green and, in the distance, the Mount.  If you take the path to the top of the Mount you get an even better view of the Gardens.

From this vantage point you can see The Rose Garden, Pergola Walk, The Arid and Celebration Gardens and The Family Garden as well as Hawkins Sculpture Walk and The Tudor Family Pine Hill Walk.


The birds are definitely noisier here! They’re bolder too; landing on parked car roofs and strutting about with a very self-confident air. We saw a lot of these white winged doves in the Gardens.

Speaking of parked cars, even the parking lot looked very decorative with these beautiful trees. I would welcome any input as to what they are called. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like them in this neck of the woods.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge – Birds

This week, Cee is looking for birds for her Black & White Photo Challenge.  We saw plenty of birds while we were in Texas! In fact, while we were in San Antonio, one of the biggest challenges for me was visiting the Riverwalk which was lined with birds.  If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know about my life-long fear of birds and the problems that I have, dealing with them in everyday situations.  After the first few minutes of dodging pigeons along the pathway I was almost tempted to give it up and return  to street level but with the help of my husband, who walked ahead of me, as a kind of anti-bird bodyguard, I managed to stay the course for quite a distance and I was glad that I did. There is so much to love about the Riverwalk!

However, it’s not all fun and games on the river.  This young bird (heron?) was standing alone on the banks of the Riverwalk. He was quite unconcerned that we were so close. I guess he must have become used to people walking by and the boats packed with tourists going up and down the river. I’m no bird expert so I couldn’t really tell how old he was but I hoped that he was capable of taking care of himself as, when we walked back on the other side of the river, we spotted an adult heron floating dead in the water just opposite to where he was standing.

For more on Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge go to Birds

On The Beach – In Galveston

When it’s 95 degrees in the shade, where else would you go but the beach, right! They say “Mad dogs and Englishmen (women) go out in the midday sun,” and perhaps they’re right.

For the first 25 years of my life, in England, we went to the coast every year for our holidays; nothing fancy, just a week at the seaside.  Since I came to the USA some 45 years ago I’ve been to the coast on only one occasion; a brief stay in Virginia Beach, and I’ve really missed that whole ‘holiday’ experience.  So when it was suggested that we go on a day trip to Galveston, while visiting family in Houston, I was all for it! Never mind that the heat index had reached 101 degrees at times that week.  I wanted to go to the beach!

Our first stop was the beach near Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. The current pier, opened to the public in 2012, replaced the original pier that was destroyed in 1961 by Hurricane Carla.


There weren’t too many people about, although footprints in the sand indicated that we weren’t the first folks to visit the beach that morning.

But for that moment in time it was just me and this laughing gull – at least I think that’s what it was; he seemed fairly amused about something –  standing, gazing out over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Bearing in mind that we were only in Galveston for a short period, I said goodbye to the gull and we went our separate ways, he to look for something to eat while we ventured further along Seawall Boulevard to East Beach.  Having found a parking spot that didn’t involve the car sinking mid-wheel into the sand, we made our way across a wide expanse of beach before reaching the water’s edge.

From a distance it looked very much as though the passing cargo ships had come aground but upon closer inspection it was apparent that all was well and the flow of sea-going traffic was progressing smoothly.

There were a few more people around by this time but there were no takers for the chair rentals.  At $30 a day, most seasoned visitors had the foresight to bring their own seats and umbrellas.

One of the things I always loved about walking on the beach was looking for shells or bits of seaweed and although there wasn’t quite the variety of items that once graced my childhood nature table, there were some interesting finds among the bottle caps and broken glass.

Despite the heat, there was the occasional breeze blowing which made being on the beach tolerable and I could have cheerfully stayed there all day, but apparently that wasn’t the plan so, reluctantly, I trekked back to the car, taking in one last glimpse of the waves as they washed ashore. I hope I won’t have to wait quite so long for another trip to the seaside. Sitting on the beach in Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan somehow just isn’t the same.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge – Animals

The squirrels in Texas are very bold, let me tell you!  I didn’t need a long lens for this shot, in fact I was half-inclined to take a step back, as this feisty little critter gave every indication that he was about to run straight up my leg!

For more on Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge go to Any Animal (no birds)