Dahlias and begonias and fuschias, oh my!
You really need to go spend some time at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
“Look at that one!” “Look at this flower over here!” “Oh my! That tiny little guy under that leaf over there is stunning!” We were slowly making our way along the meandering grassy paths of the perennial garden in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, oohing and aahing over every burst of color, every interesting texture of leaf, every variation in size and form. Everywhere we looked, something new and different and exciting was peeking out, beckoning for us to step closer, bend down, and introduce ourselves. So many flowers and bushes were alive with the hum of fat bumblebees drowsily saying hello to all the blooms, and the occasional whiz overhead alerted us to the hyperactive hummingbirds dashing in for their share.
We reluctantly left the perennial garden, which had stolen our hearts, and stepped into the Mae E Lauer Display House, only to have our breath taken away by the wild show of colors and forms put on by the fuschias and begonias that filled every square inch of space. From dreamy, creamy frills of white to audacious curls of pink and purple; from intriguing orangey starbursts to clouds of pink with yellow hearts; this explosion of flowers was simply amazing. As we gazed in wonder at each new floral delight, the perfume from the heritage rose garden just outside came wafting in amongst the flourishing flowers, lending its own touch of magic to the experience.
We headed out from the display house with a sigh and one last backward glance at the colorful petals of the begonias peeking out at us through the door… and found ourselves in the whimsical dreamland between the succulent garden and the collection of heaths and heathers. With spiny, towering cacti and poky succulents of the most Suessian shapes on our right, and pillowy, billowy mounds of soft-looking heaths and heathers on our left, we couldn’t decide whether to poke out our fingers and laugh to the one side or fall over and take a nap to the other. So we simply continued on, a smile of amusement on our lips.
We were sort of on a mission, so we skimmed past the woodland garden and followed the broad, easy path out towards the coast. After traversing a more natural area packed full of rhododendrons and azaleas that promised their own bonanza of color and fun come late spring, we made it to our goal for the afternoon – the dahlia garden. So many dahlias. So. Many. Dahlias. They were just too beautiful. We eased ourselves down onto the sun-warmed boards of the dais at the far end of the grassy lawn, where weddings are booked solid pretty much every weekend this time of year, and gazed out at the other people visiting the flowers. Some stopped at each different bloom and leaned intently down, getting to know all the intricate variations of shape and color and form. Some flitted about, cameras constantly before their faces and snapping away. Others, like us, sat still for a while on the benches and tables spaced around the garden, faces raised contentedly to the gentle warmth of the coastal summer sun. It was the perfect retreat from the busy world outside, a colorful oasis of rejuvenating peace. And you better believe we brought a picnic!
We lingered over the last few bites of our lunch, then made a final circuit of the dahlias before heading out. We strolled out along the coastal bluff, chatting as we made our way back inland toward the Vegetable Garden, which is always a fun spot to visit. About ready for a mid-afternoon nap, we stopped by Rhody’s Garden Café just inside the Gardens entrance for their delightfully refreshing strawberry lemonade and sipped on that satisfyingly tart chill as we dreamed our way through the nursery. Ah, how wonderful it would be to recreate this all at home!
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are in full late summer bloom right now – you definitely need to stop by soon to take it all in. When you go, be prepared to take your time and enjoy, to stop and smell the roses as it were! They’re open 9:00-5:00 every day (9:00-4:00 Nov-Feb), so you really have no excuses. Plus, admission is only $15!
Words and photos by Laura Hockett