Week Four: El Niño Report from the Huntington Botanical Gardens

Rain is coming tomorrow. That’s what the very excited meteorologists and weather anchors are gleefully reporting. And Jay has been up in Oakland all week helping our son and daughter-in-law with a large project, working around rain in the Northern California Bay Area.  They have agreed to send it on to us down here.

But here’s my Thursday view from the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. It doesn’t look like rain is coming, does it?


For some of you buried under winter’s snow all this talk of “where’s the rain” may seem a little overblown. I understand that and get a little self-conscious some times.

What may be worth mentioning is that Californians are under a constant information barrage regarding the El Niño implications . In my lifetime I have never before been made so aware of snowpack levels and how the snow water content is going to affect whether we pull out of the drought.

snowpack photo

These totals do not include the current storm, so perhaps we will move closer to the 150% scientists say we need as our minimum. It’s too soon for us to feel the effects in Southern California, but last weekend our city offered filled sandbags to residents–once again, that’s never happened.

So I suppose we’ll sit tight for now and just see what happens. But meanwhile, there are a few things at home requiring focus.  How is Darwin handling the weather shifts?

We had him all tucked away in a nice warm home with a spotlight for added warmth, but then the temperatures spiked into the low 80’s and he escaped. Now he’s nestled under a hibiscus bush close to the water heater. He’s too large for me to move, so with “Ironman” Jay not home to help, I placed a large umbrella up against his hibiscus den, added more timothy hay and then tarped it. He’s 15 feet from his warmer den if he chooses to move.

Until we have wet and rainy conditions, I’ll continue to make the most of outdoor time. This week I took two active little girls to the Huntington and suggested we pretend we live there.


It’s been a long time since I have spent any significant time in Henry and Arabella Hungtington’s home, but this week we used their lawn to practice cartwheels.

By “we,” I mean Karina and Sophia. They asked me if I thought I could do a cart-wheel. I assured them I could–but also added it would result in injury. They took advantage of some lovely space and a warm afternoon.

We were much later in the afternoon than I normally visit. The fading light was a different garden experience.


We didn’t go too deep into the gardens, but made a game out of finding interesting seed pods and flowering trees.

We found a stunner!


This “Pink Ball Tree,” (Dombeya wallichii) is native to South Africa and Madagascar, but it was sure full of pink flowers–and bees, here in Southern California.


The tree was absolutely loaded with these gorgeous pink flowers. I would like to continue to monitor this tree’s flower cycle.

We also found this beautiful Staghorn fern (Platycerium). I’d love to know its age.

I love the name of this green, leafy plant: Monstera delicious, or Swiss Cheese Plant.



This Australian tree is called “Lilly Pilly,” or Acmena smithii. We agreed that Lilly Pilly was a wonderfully playful name for a tree with purple-pink berries.



And speaking of unusual berries, this Ficus auriculata, originally from India, is very intriguing. The trunk is covered in unusual berry clusters.

Thursday was a beautifully warm day, just inviting outdoor play and discovery. But today, the sky is definitely getting darker and I can feel the storm coming. I think I’d better go check on Mr. Darwin and see if he’s staying put or making his way back to his warmer den.

This series of posts is following Jude’s Winter Garden Challenge. To follow along and perhaps add photos of your own winter garden experience, click HERE. You would definitely enjoy visiting gorgeous gardens on Jude’s site. Do visit HERE.






36 thoughts on “Week Four: El Niño Report from the Huntington Botanical Gardens

    • Debra February 1, 2016 / 1:29 pm

      I thought the trees were unusual and interesting, too, Kate. I don’t normally traipse around the gardens in January. Some of these same trees look very different in other seasons. I’m glad I haven’t missed them this year.

  1. Stacey January 30, 2016 / 5:02 pm

    I love the playfulness exhibited by your two grand-girls doing cartwheels! Reminds me of my childhood 🙂 Hope you guys get some good rain soon! We had glorious weather over the weekend (meaning highs of mid-50’s and low 60’s) and we took full advantage of that by riding our bikes around a few local trails…getting all of our good weather in before next week’s dip in temps…wish us luck! 😉

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 8:17 pm

      I’m so glad to hear that you had some mild weather this weekend, Stacey! Hooray for temperatures that encourage outdoor activity. It must have been wonderful! We had light, but steady rain today and it was really nice. We went to the Huntington late in the afternoon and there were few people–at least no crowds. So letting the girls play on the lawn was easy! I think we’ll soon return for just that purpose! 🙂

  2. Heyjude January 30, 2016 / 5:02 pm

    Love all the tropical plants – I first heard of the lilly-pilly tree in Australia in 2014, where a fellow blogger I stayed with has one in her garden. Another myrtle I believe. Lovely name and lovely purple berries. I hope you keep safe from the storm 🙂

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 8:09 pm

      We had some light, but steady rain today, Jude, and enjoyed it very much. The lilly-pilly tree was quite ordinary in it’s trunk and leaves, but those berries were so beautiful and very unusual. I had never noticed it before, and now I will have to visit it regularly to enjoy its cycles. I hope you have a really lovely week, with many garden opportunities. 🙂

      • Heyjude February 1, 2016 / 4:25 am

        It has a lovely flower too. A light steady rain is good for the garden, plants get a good soak without being battered.

  3. Otto von Münchow January 30, 2016 / 6:02 pm

    I do not think that your talk about rain is overblown. In some areas, like California, it’s just really a big deal, as it is quite the opposite in place I find myself, like Bergen, Norway and Seattle. But then we have other worries. Otherwise it looks like you had a grand day with you two girls. I treat to read your story and look at the photos.

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 8:04 pm

      It’s true, Otto, that the drought has had a terrible effect on some parts of California, and we desperately need the rain, but it is my awareness that every region worldwide struggles with nature’s imbalances. We had some lovely rain today, though, and although not hard, it was steady enough to percolate the soil in our own garden, and I suspect it was heavier elsewhere and may have created some true benefit. I have been enjoying my weekly visits to the Huntington gardens, and it’s a wonderful place to practice some of my camera settings. This past week I had some challenges because I was at the very end of the day and the light was low. I struggled a little bit but would like to return at that time again and continue to practice. Thank you for encouraging me on in that!

  4. Cathy January 31, 2016 / 12:52 am

    That pink ball tree is gorgeous! The botanical gardens must be quite extensive and I am really enjoying these posts Debra. 🙂 I hope the rain arrives and isn’t too heavy. Does Darwin like water?

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 7:58 pm

      I don’t think Darwin does like water, Cathy. In the heat of summer he might occasionally submerge in a small bath we provide, but this time of year I don’t think it’s advisable for him to get too wet, or at least not over a long time. We did have a light, but prolonged rain today. It was so enjoyable. I think that tomorrow we’re going to go to some effort to move Darwin in under shelter again. I hope he cooperates. 🙂 The botanical garden is quite large and I’m so glad you’re enjoying my efforts to show just a few of the plants and flowers that attract my attention each week. I don’t typically visit the gardens in the winter time, and I’ve really been surprised at the diversity I’ve encountered! I hope you have a great week, Cathy.

  5. lifeonthecutoff January 31, 2016 / 1:47 am

    I want a Lilly Pilly. Of course, I can’t have it in our cold climate – unless Tom builds a greenhouse, which would take longer than I’ll live to see happen. 🙂 What a fun time you and the girls had at the Huntington. I love that you made a game out of finding seeds and pods and such. We keep our eyes pointed westward, Debra, to see what you weather is like and what El Niño is up to. Our winter has been such a mild one, with not much snow and mostly warmer temps – all courtesy of El Niño. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 7:45 pm

      We had gentle, but steady rain today, Penny. I don’t know that it amounted to much, but it was enjoyable, and I was glad for it. I’m going to keep an eye on that Lilly Pilly tree. I didn’t think the trunk or leaves themselves were particularly attractive, but the berries were fantastic. I am curious to see how long they remain ion the tree and what comes next! I am really glad your winter climate is milder this year, my friend.After the last couple of years I would say you deserve a break. 🙂

  6. philipstrange January 31, 2016 / 4:11 am

    Here in the UK “Swiss Cheese Plants” used to be popular house plants and I had one myself for many years.

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 7:24 pm

      How interesting! What an interesting house plant! I wouldn’t have considered that. I might have better luck indoors than outdoors, since I don’t have the shady outdoor conditions I found it in at the Huntington!

  7. J9 January 31, 2016 / 7:47 am

    They’ve been giving us empty promises of rain for weeks now, haven’t they? But now I hear the cars outside driving on damp streets! Hooray! It’s just a little sprinkle for now, hopefully we’ll get a good soaking before the day is over. Your pictures from the Huntington are lovely. You and the girls sure found the color. My favorite plants there are two big Himalayan pines that were left to grow naturally. They’re a popular suburban tree but they’re always trimmed to within an inch of their lives. The two at the Huntington, however, were left to their own devices and are huge and gorgeous. The lowest, largest branches are nearly ground-level.

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 7:21 pm

      Janine, I don’t know the Himalayan pines you’re referring to, but I’m going to find them! I don’t usually spend much time at the Huntington this time of year, so it’s been fun for me to discover flowering plants and berries that I might not see in another season. I hope you’re doing well I haven’t seen you post in quite a while. If I have just missed your posts out of my own irregular reading, please let me know!

  8. nrhatch January 31, 2016 / 8:34 am

    Delightful post. Loved the Lilly Pilly and Swiss cheese plant and the exuberant cartwheels.

    any chance you could lure Darwin into his lair with a bit of his favorite “greens”?

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 7:17 pm

      The problem we have with Darwin this time of year, Nancy, is he doesn’t eat at all! From what I’ve read it isn’t true hibernation, but he’s definitely disinterested in food and doesn’t show much animation. I think tomorrow Jay is going to pick him up and move him back to where he can bask under the spotlight. We’ll sure try!

      • nrhatch January 31, 2016 / 8:07 pm

        This week on Elementary (or maybe last week), Sherlock put Clyde the tortoise in the refrigerator to “hibernate” for the winter, surprising Joan Watson when she went to get milk for her cereal. 😀

  9. Jim Stewart January 31, 2016 / 8:50 am

    Great post. I’m hoping the rain is all beneficial and not destructive.

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 7:14 pm

      The rain we experienced today was gentle. I’m hoping it actually rained a little harder somewhere in California! 🙂

  10. Mustang.Koji January 31, 2016 / 10:43 pm

    Hey, Debra! Your granddaughters are fantastically energized! But as for El Nino, it is more like El Poquito. It’s February already and even if it pours from now, I think the weather/climate folks are a bit off course. 🙂

    • Debra February 1, 2016 / 12:31 pm

      El Poquito! Maybe that will catch on. 🙂 I’m still optimistic, Koji, perhaps leading to future disappointment, but all along they said not to expect much before February, so we’ll have to see. In our neighborhood two large trees have already been completely uprooted by rain and wind, so I do wonder if I’m hoping for something that I’ll later regret. We’ll see.

        • Debra February 1, 2016 / 12:53 pm

          Oh my gosh! That’s a big tree, too! I wonder how much of this we’re going to experience. Your poor neighbor. That’s probably all at their expense to remove!

          • Mustang.Koji February 1, 2016 / 12:57 pm

            Likely! This city’s spending more than what they collect. ☺

  11. Perpetua February 1, 2016 / 2:38 pm

    You obviously spent a very enjoyable afternoon with the girls at the Huntington, Debra. Thank you for introducing me to such colourful and interesting trees. The Swiss Cheese plant is sometimes kept as a house plant in the UK.
    I’m glad to hear you had some gentle rain and hope you get considerably more over the next month.

    • Debra February 8, 2016 / 2:37 pm

      I have fallen in love with this Swiss Cheese plant, Perpetua, and I think I’m going to track it down and consider it as an indoor plant. It would really be eye-catching! It’s completely new to me. I’m glad you have some familiarity with it. We had a little rain…but then that was it. It’s a gorgeous, almost summer day today. I guess we’ll worry later. Ha!

  12. ChgoJohn February 1, 2016 / 4:26 pm

    This place is a real gem, Debra, and your climate allows them to grow such a wide array of plants. Collecting some from the true deep south means that even in our winter, there will be trees and plants in bloom. I hope you did get some rain but in a nice, slow fall. No need for the effects of a lengthy downpour over parched earth. i think you’re wise to continue to develop a garden that is more native to your climate. I’d have a hard time bidding farewell to the roses though. Their absence will be less noticeable when you see your succulents in bloom. Some are truly gorgeous.

    • Debra February 8, 2016 / 2:39 pm

      This weekend I took out three of my roses, John. They really weren’t happy where they were and hadn’t done well for a couple of years. I consoled myself that maybe I could do better with some new roses and think about them in pots. I might find I can control their habitat a little better than when they’re in the general garden and we can only water on certain days. Last year I cheated just a little bit and occasionally emptied the ice compartment of the freezer into pots. 🙂

      • ChgoJohn February 8, 2016 / 4:45 pm

        It would be very hard for me to deal with a drought and maintain my roses. I don’t know how you do it.

  13. hotlyspiced February 1, 2016 / 6:15 pm

    I hope you did get the rain. What a wonderful place to practise your cartwheels. And the pink flowers are stunning. Darwin is very entertaining and I love hearing about him xx

    • Debra February 5, 2016 / 9:38 pm

      Thank you for your interest in Darwin, Charlie. I worry about him every year at this time. He doesn’t eat or move about much at all, and of course that worries me, even though I know he’s fine! I’m trying to come up with plans for more permanent accommodations that will house him year-round. I have very good ideas for him, but the problem is that he has a mind of his own and he is rarely obedient! 🙂

  14. reocochran February 2, 2016 / 3:22 pm

    The weather is serious for plants and trees, I worry with you and others. Hope you get your much needed rain for some of the parched plants in your area. 🙂
    I relate to your granddaughters doing cartwheels but my oldest daughter and I never could do cartwheels! My youngest daughter and son were able to manage to look graceful. We were at our local park with my son and his children (wife and baby at home) his girls could do cartwheels and my son was able at 34 years old to complete this skill, too. (It reached 60 degrees on Sat.!)
    I liked the pretty pink Pilly Lilly Australian tree and the gorgeous Pink Ball tree, too. Glad the bees were “drunk” on the nectar and left you alone! Thank you for sharing more wonderful gardens, Debra.

    • Debra February 5, 2016 / 9:34 pm

      I was never comfortable with cartwheels, either. I can remember trying so hard to execute them gracefully and somehow my main concern was that I was going to break my leg–or my neck! My granddaughters are a lot more fearless than I was at their age. And the temperatures are a bit of a concern to me, Robyn. Trying to keep my garden going when we have little rain and such wide fluctuations in temperatures is taking its toll on me. I’m impatient! 🙂

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