After spending most of February with my son and his famiy in Saigon, (Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam, I'm re-adjusting to the barren winter world of upstate New York.
Last winter, I wrote about some of the private and public gardens I visited in Vietnam. This year, I spent more time in the city at the playgrounds and parks trying to keep pace with my 3 lively grand kids. The parks are a godsend. No one seems to write much about them, but I think they're one of the highlights of the city.
Saigon is intense - kind of like New York City on steroids. There aren't as many cars, but at every turn, you have to dodge swarms of motorbikes,pushcarts,taxis and pedestrians. Narrow uneven sidewalks packed with small tables,chairs and local street vendors make navigating hazardous and even crossing the street is a hair raising experience.
The tree-lined parks that run throughout the city offer respite from all this hubbub. The French influence on horticulture is apparant everywhere you look. You'll find clipped evergreen hedges, topiaries and vine-covered arbors in just about every park you visit.
One of my favorite retreats is the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden. It's a perfect spot to escape the insanity of the city. I've been there with the kids - they could care less about the gardens, but they like the animals and amusement park rides. I'm not fond of the zoo, the hot dusty looking animals look kind of tired and sad. I prefer the sculpted topiary animals that parade around the gardens.
A quick bit of history - the Zoo was commissioned in 1864 by Admiral Pierre-Paul de La Grandière, commander of French forces in Cochinchina. The gardens came later (completed in 1990) and it's now the largest botanical garden in Vietnam. The plant collection contains species of orchids, cacti,ferns,bonsai, native and non-native trees and tropical specimens.
I went on a day when the garden was practically empty and the kids weren't with me. Both being a rare occurence, I saw a lot I had missed on other visits.
One thing I really appreciated were the thick vine covered arbors that run through the center of the garden. They offered dappled shade that made walking in the tropical heat much more bearable. I recognized both Bouganvillea and Caracella vines, but there were plenty of others I couldn't identify. All of the trellises and arbors had several varieties climbing on them.
At the entrance you can see how hot colors, topiary and bonsai dominate the scene. This is a prime spot for selfies.
Each path in this garden takes you into a different area that showcases specific types of plants. For the most part, they're tropical but this one was bedded out with red salvia, cleome, zinnias and sunflowers. It seemed so American, but was a common theme I saw in many of the public gardens in Vietnam.
As I meandered into the next area, I found an impressive display of flowering tropical plants.
The garden's only downfall was a lack of signage to identify the plants. The above photo made me think of some type of bottlebrush, but that's just a guess.
Orchids are very common in Vietnam, kind of like marigolds are here in the states. This is part of the enormous orchid house and growing area. It was odd (but enjoyable) to meander around in a world of plants I normally experience as house plants.
I was intrigued with the bamboo staking in the bed below. Meticulous care is given to staking and pruning plants here.
In the desert room there are 32 varieties of cactus. Interesting to walk through but it made me feel even hotter!
In a cooler area, ferns and palms dominate. The theme revolves around prehistoric animals, both topiary and plastic. Note the number of mature trees that provide shade - a welcome relief from the tropical sun!
I've visited many public gardens, the abundance and variety of unusual plants and trees here rival any of them. Even when this park is crowded, the garden is a very peaceful spot. Most visitors flock to the zoo and amusement park rides.
The wonderful thing about public gardens is that they're available to everyone. I'm a big fan no matter where I am but felt doubly grateful for the inspiration and peace I found in this one.
Do you have a favorite public garden? Please share!