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.

Fling wrap-up at Toronto Botanical Garden: Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling


Wherever I travel, I enjoy visiting local botanical gardens. So I was happy to see that Toronto Botanical Garden would be our final stop — including a catered dinner — on the recent Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Upon arrival we 70 garden bloggers were treated to a zingy, high-energy talk and container-design demonstration by the talented and funny Paul Zammit, director of horticulture at TBG. Afterward we were set loose to explore the gardens until dinnertime. I’ll start my virtual tour with masses of tulips in a rainbow of colors. Because…tulips in June!


There were peonies too, in all their improbably large, frilly glory.


Dare I admit that a peony always reminds me of an overstuffed chintz armchair? I swear, it’s not Southern-gardener-can’t-grow-them sour grapes either. I do admire, however, these steel planter rings. I’d put those in my garden! Oh wait, I already have.


I also loved this terraced garden, with sheets of galvanized steel creating tiered planting beds.


Doesn’t this just sing?


I love, love, love these zippy variegated iris.


Dark purple iris adds depth to the scene.


As dramatic as a thundercloud


Purples were also coloring the entry garden, which was designed by the famous Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. (Oudolf also designed the High Line garden and Lurie Garden, both of which I’ve blogged about.)


Fried-egg peonies flounced through the meadowy spring garden.


Purple alliums and burgundy smoke tree — a match made in heaven


Like stars fallen to earth


In a small demonstration garden — stock tank planters! I quite like this formal arrangement, with a tree centered at back.


Paul Zammit’s container arrangements appeared throughout the gardens, like this gorgeous succulent planter in sunset hues.


Echeveria was in bloom.


Fuzzy leaves and kissy-face orange blooms — what’s not to like?


While I was taking photos, a passing visitor stopped to admire this container too. He reached out to pinch a paddle plant (Kalanchoe), and then turned to me and said, “Feel it. It feels like meat.”


By now my appetite was whetted, but I explored on, wanting to see the whole garden before dinnertime.


The garden is not quite 4 acres — very small for a botanical garden — but the director has ambitious plans for expansion into the city-owned parkland next door.


The garden had attracted a lot of visitors that day, and I enjoyed seeing how other people explored and used the gardens. Two women had a tête-à-tête in the clipped hallways of the knot garden.


Other photographers were busy capturing their own vignettes.


On a small lawn, a cluster of what looked like dancing trees caught my eye — part of a temporary art installation by W. Gary Smith. Austinites may be familiar with his work, as he designed the new family garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


According to TBG’s website, Stooks & Punes — I think Punes is the tree-like portion that remains — is constructed of natural materials found on-site, and it’s “a precursor to the design phase for the TBG’s proposed new children’s garden, which will also be designed by W. Gary Smith.”


Another of Paul’s planters, I assume


When we arrived, tables were set up for us in a lovely outdoor courtyard. But as clouds rolled in threatening rain, staff members made a quick change of plans and moved the tables indoors. I was sorry not to get to eat outdoors but grateful not to have to wear a rain slicker to dinner.


More of Paul’s creations graced the courtyard, and burgundy Japanese maples made the perfect backdrop for them.


I loved them all, but especially these Victorian urns stuffed with sea-glass-colored succulents.


I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts about the Toronto gardens we visited during the Garden Bloggers Fling this year. Enormous thanks to Helen Battersby (left) of Toronto Gardens, who headed up the Toronto Fling planning committee, which also included Sarah Battersby (right), also of Toronto Gardens; Lorraine Flanigan of City Gardening; and Veronica Sliva of A Gardener’s World. These hard-working women did a terrific job of showing us their city’s gardens and green spaces. Hats off to them for a great tour!

If all of this has got you thinking about attending next year’s Fling (open only to garden bloggers), it will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As with Toronto, I look forward to attending in another city I’ve never visited. Meanwhile, if you’d like to follow the links back through my Toronto posts, starting with an artful wildlife garden, click here.

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

My Dry and Mighty article is in Wildflower magazine


If you’re a member of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, you’ll soon find the Summer 2015 issue of Wildflower magazine in your mailbox. I’m thrilled to announce that I wrote the cover story, “Dry & Mighty.”


What’s it all about? “A dry garden doesn’t have to be drab. Make yours dazzle even in summer,” teases the contents-page tagline. In the 6-page spread, I offer design ideas for making a dry garden that looks great all year.


The article will appear on the Wildflower Center’s website soon (I’ll link to it then). But I urge you to consider subscribing by becoming a member. Not only will you receive this beautiful and informative quarterly magazine, but you’ll be supporting the garden and its mission to educate people about native plants and their benefits to ecosystems everywhere — from wilderness to your own back yard. You’ll also get free admission to the garden (and to reciprocating botanical gardens throughout the U.S.) and a discount in the gift shop.


While this wet spring may have central Texans thinking about rain gardens rather than dry gardens, we all know that dry, hot weather will return. When it does, it pays to be prepared. It’s hard to establish new plants, even xeric ones, when drought is squeezing the ground dry. This, then, may prove to be the perfect year for getting a tough, new garden established.

Update: The Summer 2015 issue is now available online.

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