New blue tuteur doubles as bee B&B

The sea of green that is my deer-resistant sedge lawn and grassy borders now has a welcome shot of color. When I heard that TerraTrellis, a woman-owned, original-garden-art studio in Los Angeles, was running an online sale, I splurged on their Akoris Jr. tuteur with a bee bungalow finial. I just love it!

It stands tall amid the Berkeley sedge and offers a hip habitat for solitary mason bees, which are beneficial pollinators. The bungalow on top is stuffed with bamboo and sticks with drilled holes, which, to a mason bee, looks like home sweet home. (If you’d like to construct a DIY bee hotel, check out my fellow Austinites’ blog posts: Vicki, Sheryl, and Meredith. You can really get creative while helping your pollinators.)

Last night an older gentleman walking his dog asked if I’d put up a video camera. Confused, I asked, “What?” He pointed at the tuteur, and I said, “Oh! No, it’s a garden tuteur with a bug hotel.” He looked completely baffled, or maybe like he thought I was nuts.

I am definitely nuts for the designs of TerraTrellis and their sister operation TerraSculpture. They’re nice people too. Case in point — along with my order they sent me a free gift: their beautifully sculptural Bird Cafe finial, which they suggested I might want to switch out with the bee bungalow during the winter.

Thank you, TerraTrellis! It’s too pretty to hide away for half the year, plus Austin, ahem, has a lot of rats, and they love birdfeeders (as do deer). So instead I plan to come up with some way of showcasing the Bird Cafe as a sculptural object year-round. Stay tuned!

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Ducking around in Memphis

Our last stop on our cultural tour of the South (a family road trip in mid-July that began in Austin and included New Orleans, Atlanta, and Charlotte, North Carolina) was Memphis, Tennessee — Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock-and-Roll. We spent two nights at the famous Peabody Hotel, within walking distance of legendary Beale Street. Having recently strolled Austin’s own Sixth Street and New Orleans’s Bourbon Street, we felt the boozy, bluesy, neon-splashed trifecta was now complete.

Built in 1925, the Peabody is a grand old hotel in downtown Memphis, which sits on the east bank of the mighty Mississippi River. The Peabody is famous for its ducks. Yes, ducks.

Every day at 11 am, the Peabody’s duckmaster leads 5 resident mallards from their rooftop digs, down the elevator, and along a red carpet to a marble fountain in the center of the lobby. They swim all day in the fountain, or snooze on the rim, and at 5 pm the duckmaster reappears to lead to them back out.

It’s a highly choreographed spectacle that attracts throngs of visitors who arrive early for a good view. We arrived at 4:30 pm for the 5 pm show and had to watch from the 2nd floor gallery, but it really was fun to see. The duckmaster appeared in a smart red jacket, rolled out the red carpet, and in a ringing voice shared the ducklore: how, in the 1930s, the manager of the Peabody and his friend brought live decoys back to the hotel after a duck hunt and put them in the fountain before collapsing in bed to sleep off hangovers. How they came downstairs the next morning to find that hotel guests loved seeing the ducks in the fountain. How a former circus animal trainer offered to bring the ducks in and out every day, thereby earning the first duckmaster title, a position he served in for 50 years until his retirement in 1991.

After the speech, the ducks marched in a dignified manner out of the fountain, down the red carpet, and into the elevators.

Aside from Beale Street-strolling, duck-watching, and oh-so-good rib-eating at Rendezvous we also visited Graceland, home of Elvis Presley. Here’s our family at the gates of Graceland — or at least a painted facsimile. Elvis belonged to my parents’ generation, and while my husband and I know his music we don’t think of ourselves as Elvis fans. For our kids, Elvis is nearly unknown except as a character to dress up as at Halloween or as the patron saint at Chuy’s.

Not being fans mattered not at all, it turns out. We all four enjoyed seeing Elvis’s home, which included an audio tour via iPads handed out as you enter. Sure, Elvis’s troubled later years and his cause of death were glossed over, but it was interesting to see his eclectically decorated, yet somehow still homey, mansion, not to mention his rhinestone-glittery costumes and all those gold and platinum records. He’s a legend for a reason. If you’re in Memphis, don’t miss it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short travelogue of our Southern road trip. For a look back at our visit to Atlanta, where we saw a light exhibit at Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Georgia Aquarium, click here. For our visit to the Big Easy, aka New Orleans, click here.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

posted in Birds, Fountains, Travel

Munro Lights at Atlanta Botanical Garden, and a whale of a show at Georgia Aquarium

Earth Goddess, Atlanta Botanical Garden

After we left New Orleans, we drove to Atlanta, Georgia, arriving in time for a Sunday evening visit to Atlanta Botanical Garden to see a special art exhibit, Bruce Munro: Light in the Garden.

Seeing a garden in late afternoon and at dusk, especially during the hot summer, is a treat in itself. During the Munro exhibit, which lasts until October 3, 2015, the garden offers special evening hours Wednesday through Sunday, from 6 to 11 pm. If you get there right at 6 pm during the long days of summer, you can see the whole place before the sun sets and then stay for the light show after dark.

While ABG is a pleasant and green oasis near downtown Atlanta, I didn’t find it to be particularly exciting in terms of its plant collection or garden design. However, it does have a few unique features that we really enjoyed. One is this monumental, 25-foot-tall Earth Goddess, which fosters an illusion of the garden come to life. Completely covered in plants, she holds a waterfall in one uplifted hand and presides over a larger cascade and pond garden.

One last look

Our favorite feature of the gardens turned out to be the Canopy Walk, an elevated path through the canopy of Storza Woods. It spirals from ground level to 40 feet high amid the trees, allowing for a bird’s-eye view of one of the Munro light exhibits below, which you can see in this daylight shot as white dots at ground level.

We came back here after dark to view the lights, but while we had daylight we continued to explore the main gardens.

We saw a Chihuly glass centerpiece in a formal fountain…

…and a small but picturesque Japanese garden…

…with a moon gate.

A wrought-iron lizard gate added a humorous note…

…especially with a chameleon finial.

A large pond by the conservatory is also nice. I couldn’t help noticing that the women’s dresses match the color scheme of this garden. Serendipity!

Inside the tropical house, one of the Munro light pieces glowed like a tentacled sea creature. We saw several other Munro pieces in this part of the garden, but the main attraction was…

…the light display beneath the Canopy Walk. It’s simply incredible and reason enough to pay the hefty admission price for this exhibit. The lights seem an organic part of the woods, like the alien phosphorescent landscape in Avatar.

Called “Forest of Light,” it consists of thousands of softly glowing, fiber-optic lights set on tubular stems in the undergrowth. Glowing green, blue, yellow, and purple, they slowly change hue in waves of color.

It’s as magical as a fairy forest.

You can easily spend an hour or more wandering the paths at ground level and on the Canopy Walk, enjoying the display. If you get the chance, go see it.

The next morning, before driving on to Charlotte to visit my dad, we visited the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta. I’d been wanting to see it since it opened 10 years ago as the largest aquarium in the world. These days it’s only the largest in the Western Hemisphere, but its collection includes whale sharks and beluga whales in enormous tank habitats.

Three whale sharks swim here, along with various smaller sharks, manta rays with 13-foot wingspans, and who knows how many other types of ocean fish.

It’s a jaw-dropping display. This is the main gallery window, but on the other side there’s a glass tunnel you can walk through to view the fish swimming all around and above you.

Manta ray

Aside from the wild, this is the only place outside of Asia where you can view whale sharks. We were told these three came from Taiwan, where they were taken from the annual fishing quota and would otherwise have been processed for human consumption.

Another large tank houses three beluga whales.

I had mixed feelings about seeing these magnificent, intelligent animals held in a tank that, while large, is only a tiny fraction of the size of their native environment.

I do believe in the value of zoos in educating the public and making them care about animals they’d otherwise never see except on TV. However, in the wake of the Sea World controversy, I’m not convinced that keeping intelligent whales and dolphins in tanks can be justified.

These are questions I wrestled with while viewing the belugas. The other displays of river fish, otters, and other aquatic creatures were interesting to see. A much-hyped dolphin show, however, was a silly pastiche of Disney-esque songs, cheesy special effects, exhorted audience participation, and, amid all this, a few dolphin jumps. Skip the show and spend your time on the exhibits.

Despite my reservations about the dolphins and belugas, I did enjoy the whale shark and manta display. If you go, get tickets for opening time, before the place fills up, to enjoy the attractions.

Next up: Ducking around in Memphis. For a look back at our visit to New Orleans, click here.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.