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As a native Portlander, I get a little defensive when people say things like “It must rain there all the time.” My city-defending instinct first kicked in when I was a kid visiting family in Connecticut, and someone asked if we got snow year round. Somebody got me a “Oregonians don’t tan, we rust!” shirt, which I didn’t find very funny.

Most of the year, I’m at peace with our seasons.

  • Spring: Fully engage in renewed horticultural obsession.
  • Summer: Hunker down and pat myself on the back for finally getting that air conditioner, watching the garden from inside.
  • Fall: Constantly exclaim things like “Look at the trees! Look at this leaf! Look at me wearing boots and a sweater!”
  • Winter: Pray for snow. Check the weather forecast compulsively. Enjoy the lights and sparkly bits that pop up around town.

But there is an awkward in between period that gets me every year, post-winter, or maybe pre-spring. Holiday celebrations are done. All hope of snow is lost. Coloring books from my youth would have me believe there are cheery flowers bursting forth. But in reality we’re in the March doldrums. I wasn’t annually afflicted until I started gardening and became aware of how long it takes for the garden to be green and leafy again, and this stretch of time is agony.

There is no cure for the March doldrums, but there is treatment that can relieve the symptoms. Now, I’ve never been a sun worshiper, much to the dismay of the wing of the family that digs a poolside vacation, but I’ve learned from them a valuable lesson about the value of blowing town. One year my sun loving kin invited us to join them renting a house in Palm Springs. All I knew about it was that it gave me a hell of a sunburn the one time I visited as a kid. It wasn’t on my radar as a place to go, but as an adult, vacation opportunities are too rare to pass up, so I went back.

Visiting as a grown up, I discovered very a different reason to travel here. While I wouldn’t say there’s a whole lot to do, it’s a funny sort of gardener’s paradise. There are a couple official gardens you can visit, but what is especially exciting is the omnipresence of spectacular plants everywhere, all the time, like they’re no big deal, mostly in front of to-die-for architecture. Plus, it’s quick and can be done fairly inexpensively if you time things right. So now, every couple years, when March is too long to bear, I try to get back there and remember that the plants will be green again soon enough.

1. At the risk of being obvious, renting a modern house is amazing

We didn’t stay in this house, but it’s close enough. The fully restored mid century modern rental is ubiquitous. You get to feel very rat pack. We’ve found better deals than hotel prices, plus you get your very own private garden. This house caught my eye because it looks like they painted their red accent colors to match the Sticks on Fire by the front door.

House painted to match the Sticks on Fire Euphorbia?
Typical style of rental houses, usually with a few bedrooms

I love houses that are designed for privacy but you still get a view.

Palm Springs dining room
Morning light in the dining room


2. Your rental house’s garden is probably amazing, too

Front yards pretty typically have awesome plants like these.
house front_yard 2013-03-01 16.12.05

A private patio off the front of the house, with a private Pachypodium (lamerei?)

house pachypodium 2013-03-03 10.43.49

I’m not a poolside lounger, but it does feel pretty great to have your very own temporary oasis. I think the tree in the corner is a yet-to-leaf-out fig. It stands out because there are so few other deciduous plants.

The pool with a fig(?) not yet leafed out
The pool with a fig(?) not yet leafed out


3. Simply walking down the street is inspiring

Desert landscape design
Such inviting looking plants, and yet, the gate mocks me…
Agaves in bloom
Trina Turk planting
Storefront planting

You see decks built around trees sometimes, but this is the first cactus deck I’ve come across.

Cactus deck
Yes. Priorities are correct.


4. You don’t have to stop plant gawking when you’re inside

Palm Springs restaurant
Cactus in view from inside the restaurant


5. Just because you’re not staying at a hotel doesn’t mean you can’t visit one

While in Palm Springs, it only makes sense to go to The Parker hotel and check out the garden. It looked a little more run down this year than when I first saw it in 2011, but it’s still worth the visit. It’s quite lush and different from the street side desert gardens, maybe (probably) the drought is taking its toll. But I always stop to get a look at the Mexican Weeping Bamboo, which has completely stolen my heart.

Almost too postcard perfect a scene.
Almost too postcard perfect a scene.
Mexican weeping bamboo
Mexican. Weeping. Bamboo.

Pampas grass usually looks best when it has ample room, and they’ve got it here.

The Parker gardens
I mean to be showing off the Pampas Grass in the landscape, not the humans in the foreground

The first time I visited, I seem to remember Asparagus ferns all over the place as one of the main repeating ground cover plants. Their numbers have dwindled, but it looked gorgeous at the time, and I’ve copied that idea liberally in my own garden.

Asparagus fern
Asparagus fern as ground cover

The lobby is also good to look at.

The Parker Interior
Jonathan Adler at The Parker
The Parker hanging chairs
The Parker lamp

The Parker interior


6. If you need a break from too much relaxing, you can always hit the dinosaur museum in Cabazon

Don’t get too excited when you see a sign for a robotic dinosaur museum. Think tiny, kitchy, low budget, and decidedly non-scientific and you’ve got the right idea. You can visit and climb into the big dinos out front. They’re sort of the main attraction, but if you pay the entrance fee you get to see the “robotic” dinosaurs on display inside.

A bit of time travel going on here
A bit of time travel going on here
A chimp and his dino, of course
A chimp and his dino, of course
Dino joust?
Dino joust?

Dino belly
Dino belly
You can walk up into the dino's mouth
You can walk up into the dino’s mouth

From inside the dino's mouth
From inside the dino’s mouth

Like any museum, you can stop at the gift shop on the way out. Unlike any museum, the gift shop is in the belly of an air conditioned dinosaur.

The rare gift shop dino
The rare gift shop dino

So, where do you go if you you need a break have a chance to skip town for a few days?