Author Archives: Bryan Thompson-Nowak

San Francisco Botanical Garden and Conservatory of Flowers

Golden Gate Park sits within San Francisco and harbors the Botanical Garden (SFBG) within its borders. Upon arriving at the Garden, we were met by Eric Andersen, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation; Sue Ann Schiff, Executive Director, San Francisco Botanical Garden Society; and Don Mahoney, Curator, SFBG, who sat down with us to explain how the city and SFBG partner to run the Garden.

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Don led us into the grounds and explained the unique climate of the area. As we quickly came to realize with our sweaters and pants, summer in San Francisco is not like summer on the East Coast. Fog, cool temperatures and a constant wind, impact and shape the plants. The garden and park sit on land that was once windswept sand dunes and today boasts of having the largest and most important collection of magnolias outside of China, as well important collections of high elevation tropical cloud forest plants of Cental and South America and Southeast Asia.

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Don guided us through the collections where we walked past Echium growing wild, a fenceline of “swarming” passiflora, northeast trees contorted and wind blown, as well as California natives. As we headed toward the coastal redwood grove we saw the giants rise before us and then saw Don casually pointing out albino suckers at the base of a redwood. Little did he know we had been looking forward to seeing albino redwood growth for quite some time. We all immediately fell into formation for a group photo and marked the occasion appropriately with several great shots.

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After a short break for lunch, we parted ways with Don and headed to the Conservatory of Flowers, also within Golden Gate Park, where we were greeted by Eric as well as Lau Hodges, Director of Operations and Exhibitions, and Jane Scurich, Director of Development. Despite being under the same governance umbrella as SFBG, they are their own unique institution focusing on a great visitor experience in a historic conservatory that has survived earthquakes and not one, but two boiler explosions in its long history.

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Lau walked us through the Conservatory where she was able to show off some of the exhibits she has created. She later treated us to a behind the scenes tour through historic greenhouses and ended our visit with a sampling of cacao from a tree that long ago outgrew its pot and now grows directly in the soil in the greenhouse floor.

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We were impressed by both institutions’ stunning collections and displays while serving the residents of San Francisco, as well as visiting garden lovers such as us, every day.

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International Experience New Zealand Day 11: On the Road to Mt. Cook, Aoraki

Larnach to Mount Cook, Aoraki

We left the ghosts and fog of Larnach Castle and set our sights on Mount Cook in the center of the south island.  As we descended from Larnach we dipped below the clouds and headed into Dunedin for one last visit where the weather was warm and sunny.  We would travel north along the coast and then turn inward after taking in views of the ocean, blue skies and long, low clouds.

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Our first stop on the journey was directly along the coast to see a unique grouping of round rocks along the beach.  The spherical Moeraki boulders lay exposed amidst the surrounding eroded sands and provided a great chance to walk along the beach, dip our toes in the cold surf and play with some beached giant sea weed.

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Once back in the van, the road headed inland and the spectacular views of the New Zealand landscape never disappointed us.  As we wound our way inland, our guide, Colin, surprised us with a stop for lunch in the great town of Oamaru (pronounced O-omaru).  Historically, the town was a hub for farmers but is currently known for its thriving arts community housed in its former industrial district and is home to the eclectic Steampunk Headquarters.  With only a short time to visit, we explored the shops in town and lunched on assorted veggie and meat pies at a local bakery.  With several hours of driving ahead of us, we set off for Mt. Cook.

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As we approached Mt. Cook we passed a progression of long narrow tourmaline lakes that stretched out along the side of the road.  As the elevation increased, so did the wind and rain as we approached our destination.  Once at Mt Cook our hopes of glacier trekking were rained out but plans were made to do an early morning tramp to get to the glacier for a quick view.  As the sun set over our lodge, the skies cleared and a rainbow appeared giving us hope that the next morning would be clear and more hospitable for glacier viewing.

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