Saturday, February 20, 2010

Harry Leu Gardens

The third garden of our recent trip was the Harry P. Leu Garden in downtown Orlando. We chose a sunny, but windy day and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. This garden and estate were donated to the city of Orlando about 40 years ago by the Leus after they spent another 40 years developing it. Earlier owners had built much of the house and landscaped a bit, but it was Harry Leu's love of camellias that led to this lovely oasis in the city. The grounds are an interesting mix of styles with about three miles of paved walkways to make access easy. The property also has a lake down one whole side, so there are some lovely vistas out over the lake, and at one point a walkway over the water. When we arrived a wedding was just ending in the rose garden, with the guests moving inside for the reception, and there were fairly many visitors in the garden.

Located on 50 acres this garden combines a somewhat traditional southern garden with the natural flora of central Florida. There is the largest camellia garden outside of California - developed over years as the Leus traveled abroad and brought back specimen plants. The house is now a museum furnished mostly in possessions of the Leus and surrounded by kitchen gardens of herbs and annuals, and a huge rose garden. There is also a natural area of native Florida plants and an educational garden where they grow "idea gardens" designed to give recreational gardeners ideas of things to try at home. The camellias were almost finished blooming, but the area was filled with mature shrubs - many 10 feet or more tall and in diameter - and covered with their final blooms of the season. I particularly liked this flower, that was a very dark coral color.

Another thing I liked was that they painted with their bromiliads. At the garden in Naples the designers have used huge swaths of the same variety of bromiliad. When they are older/larger it will create large drifts of the same plant. Here they have mixed plants of the same size, but different colors to create a different, softer look that I liked a lot. In a way it's more natural looking like a rock garden, but also charming - at least to me.

In the educational "idea" garden, there were many small planting areas more like we have at home, than those normally found in a large scale garden like this. There is also a series of delightful sculptures of people having fun and playing together. As you can see from the photo, there was not much going on in the plantings, but it was early February after all! In some beds there were "leftover" annuals - things that we wouldn't consider trying to grow this time of year in Central Virginia - and clear signs that they are getting ready to start a new round of planting for their upcoming season.

There were many plants that were not familiar to me. One I particularly liked was this "orchid tree". A young man passing by was also intrigued with it. He was pretty sure it is actually a legume of some sort. The tree was probably 20 feet tall with a very open growth habit and covered with these gorgeous dark purple flowers. They were not true orchids at all, but certainly gave the general impression of orchids. They actually remind me more of hibiscus flowers with five major petals and a few insignificant ones with a prominent pistil.

Another spot that we particularly liked was the pond walk were we could see hundreds of water lilies just waiting for a bit more sun and warmth to open. We walked all the way to the end of the pond walkway - past all the "do not feed the alligators" signs - to see the lilies. You can see how hard the wind was blowing by the raised leaves in the water.

All around the pond were huge water oaks and palms and many philodendron vines climbing both. For those of us who are used to philodendron as part of a dish garden, or perhaps working its way across our desk and up over the door to our office, this was the most steroidal plant ever. The leaves on this plant ranged from two to three FEET long and the vine was as large as my wrist.

The final fun thing in this garden is the flower clock. I have never seen one, but apparently this one is patterned after one the Leus saw in their travels. It will be gorgeous in the later spring when it really fills out in annual blooms. In case you are wondering.... the time was correct!

Harry P. Leu Gardens is definitely worth the time to visit. On a prettier day we could have spent three or four hours wandering. We didn't really see as much of the camellias or the natural areas as I wanted, but the wind was cool and we decided to move on to a warm bowl of Pho in the nearby Vietnamese section of Orlando. The arts district was also close by, so if you find yourself in Orlando and looking for an alternative to the Mouse, head over to northwest of downtown and visit some different things. This one was fun and interesting.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympics - Day... Whatever!

Are you like me and sleep-deprived because you've stayed up to watch the half pipe? or skating? Somehow, I've even been too tired to blog, altho I've been stalking all the usual suspects.

Tonight, I've decided to stick to the important stuff. Not gold, silver and bronze.... but the fashion report!

Half pipe - You have gotta love a sport where the "uniform" is blue jeans and a flannel shirt! I realize that all the teams actually have high tech fabrics and designer duds, but the US uniforms really do look so much like jeans that I spent two evenings watching the pants instead of the snow boards! (Turns out they are fancy Gortex fabric made to look like distressed denin.) I worry about Sean White, tho. He wears his jeans pretty low for a guy who is flying 15 feet above the pipe and landing half way down the wall. One of these days he's gonna have to choose between landing the jump and grabbing the pants. The American women have the same pants and a different plaid shirt.

Men's figure skating
- Here it's soup to nuts. One guy appeared to borrow snow boarding duds for the short program. Turned out to be lycra made to look like jeans, but he was definitely at the casual end of the scale. In his winning skate he wore a sleek black costume with Sworski crystal snakes wrapped around his torso, but for the short program he wore an even sleeker number with feathering sleeves that hung down over his fingers. Dave Letterman described it as "Edward Scissorhands" - which was unfortunately close to the truth. The Russian skater was similarly flashy in black and red spangles and American Johnny Weir was all feathers and silver shimmer.

Ice Dancing - My personal favorite - both for action and for fashion. Tonight's compulsory dance was the tango, so there were lots of possibilities. Most couples went for some sort of classy, sophisticated look. Lots of the women had the appearance of bare backs. You know, the supposedly skin colored fabric that actually looks like they have covered their backs - or whatever - with bandaids. There were a few who actually were nearly bare-backed and they looked much better. One of the more odd choices was a French couple who went with a polka dot look. All of those black, red and white dots are actually individual "jewels". Up close she looks encrusted!

The other French couple went in a completely different direction. From the front, she looked like she was wearing a very short red suit, but from the back....

And the American Tanith Belkin chose this fancy number for her tango. All that flesh in the front is fake, but she had some in the back that appeared to be natural.

This really has to be the best of all sports. Assuming that you can skate - and I can't - you get to dance with a good looking guy in a snazzy dress and all those spangles. It's the best.

Late breaking news! I said that I was sticking to fashion tonight, but this news is too big not to give you - in case you have not been paying attention. The US today suspended the captain of the curling team. Apparently he has not been curling well, so they are pulling in a substitute in the hope of doing better. The US men's team had been contenders for gold, but now have lost several preliminary matches and may be totally out of medal contention. You heard it first here at the Garden Bench!

As you can see, they are pretty laid back in the fashion department. Appears to be a Nike shirt, black pants and street shoes. Give me spangles any day.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympics - Day Two

Fortunately with the three hour time difference between the east coast and Vancouver, I have time in the early part of the day to get stuff done before the games begin - you know stuff like getting dressed, making lunch and other activities that somehow don't seem so important when there is ice skating to watch. Whatever will I do tomorrow when I am supposed to be working?

Today it's more luge and women's ice hockey, and tonight the big event starts - ice skating. The pairs always go first, so my hope is that we will be home from a long-planned concert in time to see the end of the short program.

Luge: Today is day two of the men's competition and frankly there were more interesting things to watch, so I have let them slide on their own. Last time I checked on them, no one had been hurt so that's a good thing. This is a sport dominated by Europeans and Germany will likely win.

Women's Hockey: This is a series of games that will probably take nearly the whole two weeks of competition, but more than likely it will end up being Canada vs. USA in the end. Internationally they are the dominate teams and each won its opening game in this round robin tournament.

Hockey is a game that I should understand. I avoided playing field hockey in college by choosing lacrosse. I didn't get it that there was as much running in one as the other. I figured that there were lots of girls who had played hockey in high school and were likely to know what they were doing, while lacrosse was almost unknown in high schools in that time. Then I got really smart and volunteered to play goalie - no running there. With experienced players I might have had to worry about balls flying at my face, but luckily I had figured right and seldom had to work very hard to stop a ball from entering the goal. It didn't happen very often! I appeared to be a good goalie.

And, I roomed with a hockey player one year in college, but I never did really get the rules. Basically, there's this hard rubber puck that each team tries to get into the other team's goal - a lot like soccer with sticks, but played on ice. There are a bunch of penalties, but everyone gets a stick so it sort of evens out. One of the most interesting things about today's match was how pretty all the women are. Inside all the padding and face masks are blue-eyed blonds and brown-eyed brunettes who look like they should be posing for this year's college calendars not chasing that puck with a stick.

Pairs Figure Skating: Sadly we missed most of the short program tonight, so will have to settle for the long program tomorrow night. This is one of the premier sports with lots and lots of fans, so you probably already know the drill. Short program is 2.5 minutes of spins, jumps, throws, lifts, and - my personal favorite - the death spiral. It can't be too hard, because there are so many people doing it. Well, trying to do it. Did I forget to mention that they are balancing on a steel blade that's 1/8 inch wide and has a bunch of sharp picks on the front, and that they are moving fast and on ice? And, to music. And, trying to look like they are having a good time. Judging by how thin they all are, it must burn pretty many calories.

Fashion note:
As I mentioned the hockey players are pretty well padded - arms, legs, body - and wear helmets and full-face protectors. From a distance they look like the Pillsbury Doughboy in nicer colors, and they look hot (as in too warm, not the good kind).

For figure skating it's a very different story. There must be an entire industry of people who make those costumes. Full of ruffles and sequins and made of stretchy fabrics they fit like a second skin, with little skirts for the ladies. Some of the pairs wear matching outfits, while others coordinate. One American pair looked like they didn't get the memo and each one just wore whatever was handy. Maybe their music explained, but I only saw the pictures, so I don't know. The most interesting pair skated to "Send in the Clowns" and dressed as Pierrot and Pierrette. A nice change, except that her makeup rubbed off onto him. The best costumes will come with the ice dancers.

Nordic Combined: This is one that I did not see except in re-runs at the end of the day. Apparently one does a ski jump off a "normal" hill and then races 10 kilometers. The US medaled for the first time ever today, so that's a good thing. This sounds like a sport where the competitors train by doing a lot of racing in cold weather - you know, in the snow. So not one that I am likely to choose for future participation.