The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (with a titan arum!)

Going to Edinburgh meant a chance to visit the Royal Botanic Garden, which is something I have wanted to do ever since I almost went there as an undergraduate exchange student many years ago. We went on a beautiful Saturday. As we arrived we saw signs promoting New Reekie.

New Reekie is in bloom!

New Reekie is in bloom!

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) had started flowering just hours before we arrived. Considering the bloom time is ~48 hours, and it takes ~12 years to coax a titan arum into bloom, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was very excited.

The titan arum is also called corpse flower. When it blooms it develops the scent of rotting flesh, which helps to attract insects (the usual pollinators). We joined a queue to see the plant, excited to see this rare and fragrant flower.

When we walked into the warm, humid greenhouse the air smelled like something had died. However, because we entered so far from the titan arum the scent was subtle at first. By the time we reached the plant our noses were saturated by the  smell, making it seem rather mild. It was a very cool flower.

New Reekie in all its glory.

New Reekie in all its glory.

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After seeing the celebrity flower we roamed the glass houses. The fern house was a stunning display of both the sporophytic and gametophytic stages of the fern life cycle. I might have subjected my companions to some discussion of plant sex (we had Fifty Shades of Green going on in that glass house).

The fern glass house with big and little ferns.

The fern glass house with big and little ferns.

Fern gametophytes and sporophytes.

Fern gametophytes and sporophytes.

In the glass houses there were several areas dedicated to succulent plants. It was slightly amusing to see the large collection of California plants growing in a protected space (with heat and light added) this far from home.

This would thrive at our house.

This echeveria would thrive at our house.

Another of the glass houses had a section for water plants. One of the water lilies was a cultivar named Pamela.

The Pamela water lily.

The Pamela water lily.

After seeing the glass houses we wandered the gardens. I ran around taking pictures, while the rest of the group strolled and talked (and looked at plants, I hope). I did not manage to see the entirety of the gardens, so there is still more waiting for me.

A majestic maple that I ran ahead to photograph.

A majestic maple that I ran ahead to photograph.

I had never seen a Meconopsis in bloom before.

I had never seen a Meconopsis flowering before.

A red passion flower.

A red passion flower.

From the gardens the Edinburgh Castle is visible.

From some places in the gardens the Edinburgh Castle is visible across town.

I had a great time, and I took many pictures. Botanic gardens are a delight.

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The Gardens at Drummond Castle

During our visit to the Highlands we spent some time in Perthshire, Scotland. The draw for us was Drummond Castle, more specifically the formal gardens on the castle grounds. This was an excellent idea proposed by Lauren and Matt. I had no idea how spectacular this day would be.

Driving along Highland roads was a joy in itself. Green grass, blue sky, fluffy white clouds, rock walls, and sheep all over. The driveway leading to the castle is impressive. At least a mile long, with most of it tree-lined.

Navigating the scenic Drummund Castle driveway.

Navigating the scenic Drummond Castle driveway.

At the Drummond Castle Gardens Superadults get in for £4. I’m not sure what makes an adult super. I’d like to believe it relates to intelligence or athletic prowess, but I suspect it is merely age.

The Superadult sign.

The Superadult sign.

The doorbell at Drummond Castle is very old school.

Pam rings the doorbell.

Pam rings the doorbell.

The gardens are overwhelming at first. Formal gardens are not my favorite type of landscape, but they are certainly fun to visit. The precision and order were evident. The plant selection was exquisite. I saw species and cultivars I had never seen or heard of before. Very, very cool.

A Drummond Castle Garden panorama.

A Drummond Castle Garden panorama.

Another panorama from down in the garden.

Another panorama from down in the garden.

The garden features an obelisk sundial that was erected in 1630. You can see it in the center of the picture below.

The obelisk sundial from 1630.

The obelisk sundial from 1630.

As I walked around the garden I was like a kid in a candy store. I get that way in large gardens (and also at book sales). So much to see! I had a basic map of the grounds, with key plants identified. I walked rapidly from spot to spot, admiring and photographing plants in the large garden. My companions enjoyed the garden but played it a little cooler than me. They lounged on the grass and did some reading while I gawked at plants.

The Scotland residents in the sun, the Californian in the shade (and that's a whitebeam tree near them [Sorbus aria])..

My companions reading: the Scotland residents in the sun, the Californian in the shade (and that’s a whitebeam tree near them).

I walked around the gardens and covered the entire grounds, yet there was too much to fully take-in in the hours we were there. I took many photos. I might do a separate post in the future, just to talk about the cool specimens I got to see.

The pond at the edge of the garden.

The pond at the edge of the garden.

I can’t possibly pick a favorite plant from the garden, but one that made a strong impression on me was Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ (golden full moon maple). I usually do not like yellow foliage during the growing season (only as fall foliage), but this plant was an exception. The leaves were a brilliant yellow. Sunlight streamed through them. The green grass, blue sky, and yellow leaves were perfect together. I didn’t edit the photo below–it was that brilliant.

A stunning maple.

A stunning maple.

Looking up through the leaves into the sky.

Looking up through the leaves into the sky.

The Drummond Castle Gardens are a plant lover’s paradise. I’m so glad Matt and Lauren recommended them. The day spent roaming this landscape was a delight.

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Hiking in the Highlands

During our Scotland vacation Pam and I spent some time in the Highlands. It was sunny and green. We had long days (sunrise around 4:30 am and sunset around 11:00 pm). On the drive from Edinburgh we stopped and admired the hills.

An HDR photo from the Highlands.

An HDR photo from the Highlands.

The first night we stayed in Fort Augustus at a lovely B&B. We were right at the end of Loch Ness, which made me happy. The next morning we went out hiking. The trail wound through the forest at the base of the hill. The forest was a mix of conifers and hardwoods; many of the hardwoods were planted in rows for harvesting.

The Highlands lowlands forest.

The Highlands lowlands forest.

The trails we hiked were a combination of logging roads, narrow paths, and open ground. Each was a fun experience. Some of the conifer-rich areas smelled like Christmas.

The logging road in the conifer forest.

The logging road in the conifer forest.

In some of the dappled shade there were brilliant rhododendrons.

A rhododendron under the trees.

A rhododendron under the trees.

The forest had many ferns beside the winding trails. I was in the back of the line, taking pictures.

The winding trail under the evergreens.

The winding trail under the evergreens.

Many of the tall conifers were arrow straight.

Looking up to see the sky through the trees.

Looking up to see the sky through the trees.

We found a little opening in the forest that afforded us our first sweeping view of Loch Ness. So cool. The Scotch broom was a brilliant yellow (you’ll see more of these).

A Loch Ness panorama from the trail.

A Loch Ness panorama from the trail.

We posed with Loch Ness.

We posed with Loch Ness.

At the upper bounds of the forest the bracken ferns were impressive.

Bracken ferns by the forest.

Bracken ferns by the forest.

As the terrain switched from forest to high elevation peat bog the ferns played a prominent role. We picked our way through the maze. Matt served as a scout, looking for good footing in the bog. Much of it felt slightly spongy but solid. Occasionally a foot would be swallowed up–I was thankful that I re-waterproofed my boots before this trip.

Hiking through the bog (ferns).

Hiking through the bog (ferns).

The mosses were very cool.

Mosses in the peat bog.

Mosses in the peat bog.

We decided to hike toward the highest point we could see on the hill, hoping for a view of the valley.

Our fearless leader scouting for a path across the bog.

Our fearless leader scouting for a path across the bog.

Our hiking to the peak led us through a logged area. Old parts of trees littered the ground. The harshness and bleakness of the tree remains contrasted with the green carpet and blue sky. It was beautiful.

Bog hiking through fields with evidence of logging.

Bog hiking through fields with evidence of logging.

There were thistles in the bog, fitting for Scotland.

A thistle and butterflies in the bog.

A thistle and butterflies in the bog.

From the peak the view of Fort Augustus and Loch Ness were spectacular. We tarried to admire them.

Loch Ness and Fort Augustus viewed from the top of the ridge.

Loch Ness and Fort Augustus viewed from the top of the ridge.

On the way out of the bog I saw a tree and a foxglove side by side. It reminded me of the Fox and the Hound. They’re the best of friends. Right now the foxglove towers over the tree, but those days are numbered.

The Fox and the Hound II.

The Fox and the Hound II.

The trail continued to delight us as we lost elevation. Scotch brooms became common. They were vibrant, even brighter than forsythia. Stunning. The trail took us right through the yellow sea.

The trail through the Scotch broom.

The trail through the Scotch broom.

Highlands Hiking 6 sf

Highlands Hiking 7 sf

Highlands Hiking 8 sf

A posed hiking picture.

A posed hiking picture.

We saw a blind worm by the trail (also called a slow worm). However, it is not a worm at all–it is a lizard!

Highlands Blind Worm sfWhen we got back to Fort Augustus we feasted on strawberries. Later that night we celebrated Lauren’s birthday at The Boathouse restaurant on Loch Ness. I had haggis for the second time.

The next day we drove to Inverness, then to Drummond Castle, and on to Aberfeldy.

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A Vacation in Scotland: Exploring Edinburgh

As June turned to July Pam and I traveled to Scotland for a vacation. We had a great time exploring and experiencing Edinburgh and the Highlands. It was wonderful to spend time with Matt and Lauren. In addition to being excellent company they also gave us great tips and lined up many of the details for us when we were on our own. Thanks to their help we were able to make the most of our visit.

We arrived in Edinburgh on Friday morning (SBP⇒ SFO⇒ YYZ ⇒EDI). After the overnight flight we relied on caffeine and adrenaline, skipped a nap, and explored Edinburgh. During our time in Scotland we saw Edinburgh, Fort Augustus, Inverness, and Aberfeldy. I’m going to split the blog posts up into a few sections: Edinburgh, the Botanic Gardens, the Highlands, and the Drummond Castle gardens.

Here are some highlights from Edinburgh.

We stayed in a great flat near the Grassmarket. The Edinburgh Castle sat above the flat and Grassmarket, very conspicuous and very cool.

The Edinburgh Castle viewed from Grass Market.

The Edinburgh Castle viewed from Grassmarket.

On our first day we went to the National Museum of Scotland. The museum houses all sorts of interesting things. The rooftop garden has some great plants and good views of the city. The main room is also impressive.

Museum.

The National Museum of Scotland main room.

We toured the Edinburgh Castle. From the castle walls the views of the city were impressive. We saw St. Cuthbert’s Church, where we went to a Sunday service with Matt and Lauren. The church is very old and grand.

Saint Cuthbert's.

Saint Cuthbert’s Church, viewed from the Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh 10sf

Saint George’s Church, viewed from the Edinburgh Castle.

The Holyrood Palace was not open to visitors because the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were in residence. We walked to the gate, but we were not able to go inside.

The Holyrood Palace was closed during our visit.

The Holyrood Palace was closed during our visit.

The old streets were fun to walk. The Royal Mile was great, and many lesser known streets were also well worth exploring. So much history.

Walking the streets.

Walking the streets.

On the Royal Mile we saw the David Hume statue with the lucky toe (notice the different color of the big toe, polished by many visitors grabbing it for luck). This is a humorous tradition, considering Hume despised talk of superstition and luck.

The lucky toe.

David Hume and his lucky toe.

While sitting on the top half of a doubledecker bus we got stuck in traffic. But it was a fortuitous traffic jam. Traffic stopped for a parade. And we had a front row (second level) seat.

A parade.

A parade.

Edinburgh 4sf

We hiked to Arthur’s Seat. The hike was a pleasant stroll. At the top we had spectacular 360° views of the coastline, towns, and the city. So much green.

A photo from Arthur's Seat.

A photo from Arthur’s Seat.

As we were hiking up the trail intermittent rain was falling. This resulted in dramatic mixes of clouds and sun.

The view from Arthur's Seat.

The view from Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh on a sunny, cloudy, rainy, and clear day.

The view from Arthur's Seat.

The  Edinburgh Castle viewed from Arthur’s Seat.

Pam on Arthur's Seat.

Pam looks at Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat.

On the hike back down we stopped at the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel. From there Calton Hill was impressive.

Ruins

Calton Hill viewed from the St. Anthony’s Chapel ruins.

In Edinburgh we saw a very cool clock made from plants.

A clock of plants.

A clock of plants.

Edinburgh is such a fun city to explore.

A picture with the castle.

A picture with the castle.

Another place we visited was Bruntsfield Links. it is one of (if not the) oldest public golf courses in Scotland (and maybbe the world?). I played 36 holes of golf–which was pure bliss.

Golfing!

Golfing at Bruntsfield Links.

Fore!

Fore!

Highlights from the course include sinking a 41 ft chip, getting complimented by an elderly Scottish golfer with a delightful accent (“Great green shot!”) when I hit a green in regulation, and just soaking up how fun it was to be on this old course.

Lining up a putt.

Lining up a putt.

During my time in Edinburgh I often referred to the Scott Monument as the Villain’s Lair (you can see it in my picture of Edinburgh Castle from Arthur’s Seat in the lower right part of the photo). It reminds me of a place where an evil genius would reside. I paid a few pounds to take the staircase to the top. It was probably the narrowest staircase I have ever navigated. The staircase opening shrinks on the ascent, so by the time you reach the top it is very small.

The view from the villain's lair.

The view from the villain’s lair.

These photos and words are just a glimpse of what we experienced in Edinburgh. I’ll follow up with more from the trip soon.

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The 2014-2015 Academic Year Come to a Close

I’ve conquered the piles of grading, attended commencement, and wrapped up the loose ends–the academic year is finished. While that is good news, now that the summer is here the research pressure ramps up. Right now I’m doing planning and purchasing to get things in order, and I’ll be setting up experiments soon.

A commencement selfie. #CalPoly

A photo posted by Benjamin (@barre7) on

Here are a few quick thoughts and notes:

  • I went on a weekend camping trip with friends (and grading) to Sequoia National Park a couple of weeks ago. Good times. . .

The river near Buckeye Flats. Camping in Sequoia National Park.

A photo posted by Benjamin (@barre7) on

Hiking in Sequoia National Park on Saturday.

A photo posted by Benjamin (@barre7) on

Left: The current (6/16/2015) Fan Graph Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for American League 2B All-Star Game candidates.  Right: The current (6/15/2015) leaderboard from the voting (players with no vote totals failed to make the top five for the position).

Exhibit A: (Left) The current (6/16/2015) Fan Graph Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for American League 2B All-Star Game candidates. (Right) The current (6/15/2015) leaderboard from the voting (players with no vote totals failed to make the top five for the position).

  • I’ve been vocal about my dislike for the current form of the MLB All-Star Game. I hate that it determines home field advantage for the World Series. I don’t like the way the voting works. Interleague play has removed the novelty of stars from the two leagues meeting, since it happens weekly now. All Star voting is a popularity contest, and many fans lack the baseball intelligence to cast a responsible vote. Check out the AL 2B current vote count as Exhibit A.
  •  My email inboxes, both personal and work, are in terrible shape. I usually keep them clean and sorted, but this year that fell apart. If anyone has emailed me this year and never received a reply I am sorry–your message might have been buried.

Enjoy the summer!

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