Category Archives: exotic flowers

Pursuing Truth and Beauty


When I saw this cactus in Green Valley Arizona, south of Tucson and near the Mexican border I thought it might be the most beautiful cactus I had ever seen. I was on a church yard, so I thought I could walk and photograph it without fear of being shot.


When I first retired I said I wanted to stop spending my time in order to make a living and feed my family, I wanted now to pursue “truth and beauty” as John Keats said. I have done that. And it has been great fun.

When I went to university, in my first English literature course, taught by Jack Woodbury, one of the best professors I ever had, the first poet we studied was John Keats. English poet. He published only 54 poems before he died at the age of 25.  That is 54 more than I have published. And many of them were great poems.

John Keats was an English Romantic poet, along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and others. His poems had been in publication for less than four years when in 1821 he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Talk about brief beauty!


One of the poems we read was “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”  This might have been the 3rd or 4th poem I studied in university. The poem describes an urn with an image of  a young shepherd pursuing a beautiful young woman who he wants to kiss. But of course, in the image he never catches her. She is forever, a “still unravished bride of quietness.” She never speaks. Their love is never consummated, but their love never turns stale either. It is a love that never withers. The shepherd is also a piper whose song is never heard.  But this too is fine. As Keats says in the poem, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”

The last two lines of that poem go as follows:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.


There has been much critical debate about what those words mean. Many, including me, have puzzled over the meaning of those words. I think they make sense in the context of the whole poem. In a way it is a summation of the poet’s thinking expressed by the previous 48 lines.

By beauty I think he means beauty in a wide sense. Beauty basically is art. And art is true or it is not art. So beauty is truth and truth is beauty. Some cactuses bloom only for a day. What a dreadful pity.

So a beautiful cactus flower, caught in a silent moment by a camera, is a work of art (beauty)  that never withers. It  is an eternal thing of beauty. If is it good, it is good forever.  It never changes. That is truth which also is truth forever.



Ephemeral Beauty


The first time I saw one of these gems, called the Argentine Giant Cactus I was told they bloomed for only 1 day.  I was stunned. How could such beauty be so brief? We heard this on the way out of the Phoenix Botancial Garden a few years ago. And they were blooming right now!  Of course, we had no option but to return back to see them. And they were indeed stunning. And the next day the flowers were gone!


In one respect we were very lucky in the weird year.  The cactuses were blooming about 2 weeks later than they normally do.  As a result, in a normal year where we leave for home on the last day of March, we would have seen very few cactuses blooming. That would have been disastrous. As it was, since we left April 15th this year, we got to see a lot cactuses in bloom. Not as many as we would have liked, but disaster was avoided. I did not have to pitch myself off a building.


One disadvantage of looking at cultivated cacti was I often did not know what kind of cacti they were.  I have some knowledge about wild cactuses but even less of the exotic ones


I always say I am an orchid guy.and it is true, I am an orchid guy. But I must admit cacti are pretty good too. Sometimes it is cruel how short of time we get to enjoy such beauty. And if you miss it, you must wait a year to redeem yourself.

The Dangerous World of photographing Cactuses

Argentine Giant Cactus

This was a crazy year in Arizona.  Our 3&1/2 months in Arizona were the coldest and wettest we  have experienced there.  We hung around the pool a lot less than we usually do and worst of all the cacti bloomed later than usual.  More than 2 weeks later in my opinion. Fortunately, we were staying 2 weeks longer than we often did or we might have seen almost none. That would have been catastrophic of course.


Thankfully there was the Boyce Thompson Arboretum where the cacti are so well tended they can’t wait to emerge.  Secondly, there was the Phoenix Botanical garden as well as the Tucson Botanical Garden again where tender loving care convinces the cacti it is save to come out of hiding.  Finally, there were private homes where some magnificent cacti bloomed early. But here there were dangers!


In the early morning I visited the pre-scouted cactus sites  on yards I have seen in the Johnson Ranch area where we had been living. I had picked out places I wanted to photograph.  Of course, I will not venture onto properties without permission. That is dangerous thing to do here.  Of course, walking up to doors as a stranger and asking to talk to the owners is also dangerous. A  number of people in the US this year have been shot dead for doing exactly that.

Although it was risk waking up to a strangers house unannounced I had some protection. I was not packing heat, but I had one good protective help—i.e. white skin. Most of the people shot were black skinned. That is almost suicidal. This is what happens in such a fearful country where so many of the people have guns. They shoot first and ask questions later. Who would want to take a chance on a stranger at the door?


When the world gives you lemons think tulips


I had a bit of an adventure and will blog about it as soon as I learn what happened. Ordinarily at this time of year I would be out and about photographing crocuses. The Canadian sign of spring. Since that was not possible I had to find an alternative. And there was one. Christiane had bought some beautiful tulips. The Dutch sign of spring.


If the world gives you lemons; make tulips.

I love tulips almost as much as orchids. I have been as far as the Keukenhop Gardens near Amsterdam to see their lovely garden of tulips. Probably the best place in the world to see tulips. The tulips were late in blooming that year and we were on time. Not a good combination. But we still saw lovely flowers.


Did you know that at one time tulips were so popular that the prices skyrocked to such insane prices that when they fell as inevitably they do, it created a recession? The original stock crash. Something we are learning about again. I have been to the annual tulip festival in Ottawa a few times. The best place to see tulips in Canada. Canadian tax dollars at work.


But today I was confined to my house and yard, so I photographed tulips in my backyard. They were not blooming, I dragged them outdoors for better light.

It was a fine day. I hope you had one too.

Butchart Gardens: the Most Beautiful Garden in the World?


I don’t know if the Butchart Gardens of B.C. are the most beautiful in the world. I haven’t seen them all. I just think it is the most beautiful garden I have ever seen.


I love flowers.  I don’t love working in flower gardens so much. Does that make me a bad person?

I love Water Lilies almost as much as orchids

The gardens are really a suite of gardens in Brentwood Bay British Columbia just outside of Victoria. The gardens host more than a million visitors a year.


Butchart Gardens is open 365 days a year. I have a hard time comprehending that in Canada a garden can be open all year. Where else but B.C. could they do that?



My brother-in-law Norm took Chris and I together with his partner Monique and their daughter  Margo to Mosaïculture.  This is an international horticultural event being shown for the second year in Gatineau Quebec.  The display contains 45 larger-than-life plant sculptures on a stunning 1km loop on the banks of the Ottawa River overlooking the Parliament buildings on the Ontario side. The exhibit uses 5.5 million plants as part of 45 sculptures.

Mosaïculture is upping the floral ante. Last year’s run saw three million plants, while this year, more than 5.5 million will sprout across the park. The number of plant-based sculptures has also grown to 45 from 33.

The astounding artistic display weds nature, culture, and horticulture in which the plants are designed a sculpted to appear like objects of art. For example they display a lobster fisherman, 3 ships from France, Bill Reid’s famous killer shale, snowy owls, polar bear, a howling wolf, bison, voyageurs, Glenn Gould’s piano, the 1972 hockey summit, Wisakedjakand the creation of the world through indigenous religion, the raven and the moon masks by  a Haida artist, and many others.


Chinese dragons


Mother Earth

To me the most interesting sculpture was of Mother Earth as described in North American indigenous belief systems together with the  legend of Aataentsic who is really the same being portrayed as Gaia in Greek mythology, Terra Mater in Roman myth, and Mahimata in Hindu beliefs, Pachamama among  South American indigenous peoples, among others. It is really the same idea expressed by different cultures. The sculpture of Mother Earth was inspired by the speech that Chief Seattle gave when he met American President Pierce and it captures the fundamental belief of many North American indigenous people that we are all part of the earth and inseparable from it. If this is true, as they, and I too for that matter, then it has profound importance for our relationship with nature and our environmental obligations which take on a spiritual impulse.


Tree of Birds

There was another outstanding creation: the Tree of Birds which featured 56 endangered avian species from around the world. Chris and I were photographed in front of this sculpture.




Water Lilies

Of all the exotic flowers I must admit I like water lilies a lot. I also like orchids, and irises, and lilies. But water lilies are dear to me.

One of my favourite artists, Claude Monet, also loved them. He painted about 250 of them over the years. For the last 30 years of his life water lilies were perhaps his main subject. I can see why. His paintings are now on display around the world. Last year we saw many of them at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, one of my favorite art museums.

Monet painted many water lilies from his flower garden near his home in Giverny. I would love to go there to photograph them. There is a photo tour of that garden with a workshop for photographers each year. Attending that is high on my bucket list.  Until then I will have to content myself with photographing water lilies in the wild or the English Country Garden in Winnipeg, one of my favorite places.


There are many varieties of water lilies but in Manitoba we have only two native ones. The white is my favourite Manitoba water lily.


These are native to Manitoba


No matter how old I get, I will never tire of water lilies.

 I could have also said this about orchids,  but when you are tired of water lilies you are tired of life. 

Exotic Flowers


I am a wild flower guy. It is as simple as that. But I also like exotic flowers, even though I know almost nothing about them. Often I don’t even know the names of them.  I just like them because they are beautiful. That is why I like to photograph them whenever I can. One of my favourite places to do that is the English country garden at Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg. We went to a number of gardens, private and public, and these are just a few of the photographs I captured.




Ralph Waldo Emerson said “the world laughs in flowers.”  Aren’t flowers grand?

Argentine Giants

We saw the Argentine Giant cactus (Echinopsis candicans) for the first time at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden by accident last year. It bloomed the day we were there. Usually it blooms for only a day. Now that is a dreadful pity. Imagine flinging such beauty out there for one day! It is a cactus that is not native to the Sonoran Desert but many people plant and nurture it. It is a lot of work for a flower that blooms for about a day. Echinopsis Candicans is a large columnar cactus with huge fragrant flowers that typically open only at night. When the cactus is not blooming it looks sort of ugly with its large columns that droop to the ground.

When it blooms it does so to stunning effect. The first time we saw one blooming we were shocked.


One of our neighbors had one that bloomed a brilliant orange.


Another had one with lovely pastel shades. It is little wonder that I love cactuses about as much as orchids. I was in heaven. I believe these were also Argentine Giants but I am not sure. If anyone spots me making an error in flower identification please let me know.