Sunnylands Gardens: say what?

Sunnylands Gardens: say what?

In my continuing saga, Stranger in a Strange land (kudos to Denise Maher for the pithy observation,) I’m trying to sort out how to think about Sunnylands–apparently a place of world-wide fame. I’m sure I missed the royal treatment generally reserved for visiting dignitaries, but still, in strolling the gardens–impressive though they be–I came away confused.

Why mass planting after mass planting? I wanted to grab a spade and mix things up. Of course, there was this to discourage me–if I were to be seriously inclined. Overall, though, I had strong deja vu of parochial-school confines.

And though I didn’t observe security–other than the cameras every 20′ surrounding the entire perimeter–I imagine someone would have appeared to stop me.

Aloes line up over here.

Aloes line up over here.

And a wider shot, but you see what I’m saying about the formations–a little soldierish. In fairness, this area did have nice trees.

I liked the trees, Parkinsonia aculeata aka Palo Verde.

I liked the trees, Parkinsonia aculeata aka Palo Verde.

And this–which was a lovely vista.

The Palo Verde bloom is an intense clear yellow.

The Palo Verde bloom is an intense clear yellow.

More soldiers, Echinocactus grusonii aka Golden Barrel Cactus.

Barrel Cactus all in a row. (Actually, one of my favorite mass plantings.)

Barrel Cactus all in a row. (Actually, one of my favorite mass plantings.)

And more organization. Of course, now that I look at the pictures, I like it more than I thought I did when I was there.

Hesperaloe, which I love, planted en masse.

Hesperaloe, which I love, planted en masse.

Hah, I found a bed where things were intermingling a bit. That’s more like it.

This bed mixed it up a bit. More interesting, no?

This bed mixed it up a bit. More interesting, no?

I liked that there were lots of trees, relatively speaking. I mean, not Oregon-style lots of trees, for godsakes, but trees.

A little shade makes everything better.

A little shade makes everything better.

I’m always looking for a place to park in the shade, and my son-in-law Justin (in all but the fine print) indulged me by finding one.

Parking in the shade, sorta. Thanks, Justin.

Parking in the shade, sorta. Thanks, Justin.

In looking at the photos, it seems more lush than it felt when we were there. The trees were lovely.

Megan way down over there, to give an idea of scale.

Megan way down over there, to give an idea of scale.

And there were some nice people sitting behind this vista who kindly took our photo. Public Service Announcement: when taking a group photo, get the feet too!

Elliot, me, Bill, & Megan at Sunnylands.

Elliot, me, Bill, & Megan at Sunnylands.

Ever so slight mixing it up.

Texas Sage backdrop, lots of Texas Sage.

Texas Sage backdrop, lots of Texas Sage.

I liked this bright bug, but couldn’t get him to turn around for me.

Unidentified bug on unidentified plant. You're welcome.

Unidentified bug on unidentified plant. You’re welcome.

Soft and fluffy trees with grass in the desert. Hmmmm.

Repetition on a theme: grass, cement, trees.

Repetition on a theme: grass, cement, trees.

I purposely have not read a lot of other bloggers’ thoughts on Sunnylands. I didn’t want to be unduly influenced. But I will now. In trying to identify the plants, I stumbled upon pal Gerhard’s post. He knows stuff, and you can read about his take here. (In my sneak peek of his post, seems we had a similar reaction, though his is a more scholarly approach.)

In perusing Google images, I was struck by the similarity of our photos. That says something, doesn’t it, that in a garden this big, we all got the same shot? Access, regimentation, or something funny.

What say ye?

Cheers.

  • Ricki Grady

    I kinda liked the regimentation in the shots where there were shadows falling over them or blossoms on the ground: very yin/yang.

    • Oh you philosopher, you. I wandered around scratching my head. next time, let’s go together–and you can point these things out. Of course, the pesky tbi really kicked in with all this new material. xo

  • Tim Vojt

    I guess I am a fan of the mash-up. The regimented rows don’t look contrived enough to read as modern, and having grown up in Iowa, is just looks like monoculture to me, or perhaps nursery stock waiting to be dug and sold. Definitely cool plants, though!

    • I wasn’t sure what you’d think, Tim. Maybe all that order would appeal. Glad to hear you’re still with me on cramscaping. It was fascinating, to be sure, but I was so confused about where to look. You’re right about it seeming like nursery stock. I kept looking for the “buy” booth!

      • Tim Vojt

        After looking at Gerhard’s post, my feelings about Sunnylands are even more negative. I’m not quite sure what impressionist artist the landscape architect was trying to emulate, but it certainly escaped my notice in the photos. Maybe the designer was thinking of pointillists like Seurat.
        I really do love modern and spartan landscape designs with a modern house and hardscape when done well, though. I guess I wouldn’t call a modern landscaping effort a garden, because ‘garden’ is as much a verb as it is a noun for me. One doesn’t garden with a minimalist landscape design, one maintains. It has it’s place and beauty, but I couldn’t have a yard like that.
        It really made me think about how I would take the elements of a garden and prioritize them, the order of which probably results in different styles. My order of priority (but all are important to me) would be plants first, then color, texture and design last. Switch that order around or remove an element and you get a very different garden. Not bad, just different.
        Thanks for making me think and I’ll bet you’re sorry for walking the opinionated bear….
        cheers to gardening and different points of view!

        • I’m glad to hear from you, Tim. You make me think harder than I can!

  • Cenepk10

    What Tim said… Trying to be modern – & to be honest- I’ve underplanted hydrangea beds with rows of grasses & I really kinna dig that look – which really can be appreciated from afar – Guess someone with Yours & Tim’s love of plants’ specialness – Combinations, contrasts are more natural & appealing to the eye & satifies the soul. Think of Sunnyfield as an Andy Warhol exhibit for cacti :). Interesting…. Sometimes it helps a lot to see what one finds as course or bristling to hone in on what really pleases in a design.

    • Wow. What a good way to look at it. And when I saw Gerhard’s take (Succulents & More) I saw the error of my limited scope. I do hate to put my dumbness right out on display, but I also want to embrace it and then hear what others think of first impressions. Isn’t that the reason to leave your own backyard once in a while, to open up your mind? I don’t mean to be so provincial, it’s just that someone is always pulling my tail (me, that is!) Love hearing from you. thx

  • Paco Cabron

    The geometric approach has its’ place though I tend not to like those places.
    But your pic titled “A little shade makes everything better” makes me appreciate the beautiful surfaces in that simple landscape.

    • It was fascinating. And I’m glad I went. I’m still perplexed as to how to store in my gardening brain. Of course, my “style” tends to be ADD, so there’s that. I couldn’t help but see it in political terms. I knew right away that they weren’t no lefty radicals… Thx for stopping by. Makes me so happy when people comment.

  • Paco Cabron

    Yes, I love the distinct shadows cast in that simplicity.
    I would love to see a section devoted to this….in an otherwise “free” garden.

  • Jane Strong

    Well, I like it and I like it for one reason only: It is an antidote to all the ugly, messy, neglected, poorly designed, so-called native plant gardens that have sprung up down here. The designer has taken mostly native plants and used them in a formal, Italianate-type setting. Kudos to him.

    • Point to Jane. It was fascinating and impressive. Thx for stopping by. Always happy to hear from you. Cheers.

  • Denise Maher

    overall I think I like it — when I think of all the wagon wheels and cow skulls most desert gardens get inflicted with, this respectful, monumental treatment is refreshing. Maybe tedious to view up close, but photos of it are fabulous! It’s the lawn that looks weird to me. That sky and strong light needs something buff-colored. Since the place is so huge, I’m guessing this kind of regimented, mass planting was the most efficient way to cover the ground quickly — though I have no idea if this was a consideration.

    • I like your perspective. It was just so outside of my wheelhouse, I was confused. Plus I was low on sleep trying to have as much fun I could in a few days. Don’t get me wrong. I’d go back. Cheers Denise.