Garden Travels – Big Sur

One of the nicest things about gardening is that it’s a hobby easy to share, and around the world there are folks with fabulous landscapes just waiting for someone to ask: may I see your lovely garden? That request, golden to any proud gardener’s ear, will open almost every door, if asked politely, and can spark a whole series of horticultural adventures.

Yours truly collecting fresh chanterelles in the forests around Big Sur! Ah, pleasure!

My own latest round of garden travels began in Los Angeles, where I went to film a short spot for Black and Decker’s fantastic zero emission battery mowers and weed wackers. I had a fun morning with the film crew at a large empty estate in the Valley, whipping, whacking and edging grass and weeds for the camera. I must say that I continue to be hugely impressed by these tools. I’ve used them for years personally, but their latest iterations are truly something: fast, powerful and effective.   I’m truly proud to be B & D’s media ambassador for 2010.

After filming, I began to get ready for the next leg of my journey: off to San Jose for the South Bay Home and Garden Show. Rather than flying to Northern California, I  decided to rent a car and drive up the coast: certainly cheaper, presumably just as easy, and far more interesting.

Ha! Well, I got the last part right, anyway.

A suite at the Ventana Inn

As I had a bit of time before arriving in the San Jose area, I decided to break my journey 3/4 of the way (the drive from LA to San Jose is 300 miles up an often tortuous, cliff-hanging two-lane Highway 1) at the Ventana Inn. Located in Big Sur, one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful region of the US, the 5-star resort – nestled within a eucalyptus-scented forest perched on a cliff over looking crashing breakers 1000 feet below – is truly breathtaking.  (The price can be truly breathtaking too, especially in high season; fortunately January is not, and deals abound. And, unlike many hotels that look down on bargain-basement priced guests like me, everyone at Ventana is king or queen for the day.)

This wasn’t my first trip: I had been to the Inn a number of times before on media tours, including one for Ventana’s now gone and much lamented “Mushroom Hunting Weekends” where fungi aficionados would come from all over the country to attend supervised collecting trips, then sit down to a 7 course dinner with mushrooms in every course, including dessert. (It sounds bizarre, but the meal was truly spectacular.)

At any rate: those of you who have been watching the national news these last few days probably have noted the incredibly ferocious storms battering the West Coast. Now, I must be honest: I’ve never had much sympathy for Westerners complaining about the weather. After all, for 11/12 of the year, they live in Eden. It’s just RAIN, guys, get over it! Come try our Nor’easters and two feet of snow!

Highway 1 in Big Sur... Need I say more?

Let me assure you, dear readers, that these are no mere rainstorms. My own aquatic adventure started in Los Angeles, watching from my hotel room while streets flooded in seconds and seeing coconuts (!!) floating down the gutters. Then, there was the two hour drive to Santa Barbara in rain so heavy I couldn’t actually see the road,   praying all the way that the large semi in front of me, whose lights I was using as a guide, had a better view than I. After this bit of meteorological delight, there were the tornado funnel clouds (I kid you not) in Orange County, followed by the strangest thing: 4 hours of suddenly clear skies and complete calm as I arrived to drive the  hairpin turns dangling above crashing breakers on Route 1. And thank god for the dry spell, because it turned out that the road was blocked at numerous points by rock slides (!!!), which were in the process of being cleared by the indefatigable Cal Trans, the California Department of Transportation. (At one point though, I did have to edge around a car-sized chunk straddling the middle of the road: fortunately, the side nearest the cliff gave the most ample access. There was no way I was edging around that thing ocean side!)

In any event, I arrived at Ventana almost 7 hours later thoroughly tested and almost bested. (Let’s just say that that complimentary glass of wine the staff so kindly offers guests as they settle into a plush chair by a roaring fire didn’t go at all to waste.) Since then, it’s been almost hurricane like conditions here, alternating with brief periods of deceptively clear sky. You need to move fast though: these breaks only last a half hour or so, and are then followed by what can only be described as a rain blizzard, with howling winds, lightening, and hail measured in half-inches. Somehow, ensconced in my cozy room by the fire with a good book, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Winter lavender and Pacific Ocean blue at Ventana

Fortunately, for most of the year, the weather in Big Sur is completely  pacific, and there are some spectacular gardens to be seen in the region, especially when the area hosts the Hidden Gardens of Big Sur Garden Tour each June – a perfect opportunity to sharpen your garden invitation skills. Also, there is the not-to-be-missed Carmel Tomatofest each September, where literally hundreds of delicious varieties are gathered for tempting, testing and tasting, paired with some of the best food and wine in the region.(Don’t let the somewhat carnivalesque website fool you. This is REALLY good!)

So I’m off to San Jose tomorrow. Would I do it all again?

In a California minute.


Garden Travels – Big Sur — 2 Comments

  1. I had a great experience at Ventana and Big Sur as well as a smaller out of the way inn very special to me. The gardens of Big Sur, the Sacred Gardens of Ondi-Ahman, I tell you in ‘the most beautiful region in the US’.

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