Lake Maggiore - Isola Madre

This small island in Lake Maggiore has been owned (together with several other nearby small islands) by the Borromeo family for 500 years. Virtually the entirety of Isola Madre is a botanical garden.

The most impressive tree on this island is a Kashmir cypress (Cupressus cashmeriana). It was planted from seed in 1862, and grew to be an immense tree-the symbol of this garden. The tree was uprooted in a tornado in 2006 (photo below of the tree below showing it lying on its side after the tornado), but the Borromeo family used extraordinary efforts to save it - a helicopter and cables to right the tree, special chemicals to limit the perspiration of water from the leaves, and constant watering for several years. The tree is still cabled, as you can see from the photo below.

The island has a beautiful palm garden with over 10 species of palm, including Chilean wine palms, Butia capitata, and others that were beyond my palm abilities :) Coming from San Francisco, where ginkgos often don’t thrive, it was nice to see that one of the biggest specimen trees on the island was a giant Ginkgo biloba.

Kashmir cypress

Kashmir cypress

The Kashmir cypress in 2006, after being uprooted in a tornado

The Kashmir cypress in 2006, after being uprooted in a tornado

Palm garden

Palm garden

Butia capitata (I think)

Butia capitata (I think)

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Ginkgo

Ginkgo

lake Como - Villa Melzi

Today we visited Villa Melzi - a beautiful estate and garden created by Francesco Melzi d’Eril, count of Lodi and Vice president of the First Italian Republic in the time of Napoleon. He decided around 1800 to build a summer residence at Bellagio on Lake Como.

Melzi had a strong interest in botany, and European botanists at that time were very interested in “exotic“ trees, including many from North America. Europe is missing many species and genera that exist in Asia and North America (in Europe they were wiped out by the Ice Age, as their retreat trees had nowhere to retreat to the south was blocked by the Alps and the Pyrenees). So while the garden has many beautiful, huge European oaks, beech and pine species and cultivars, it also has Melzi’s “exotics” - tulip trees, Chilean wine palms, various pines from Mexico, and one of the largest deodar cedars I have ever seen (in the photo below, look for the human being in the photo to see how large it is).

The most famous trees in the garden are the London planes in a long allée on the border of the lake.

I recommend a visit for tree-lovers!

Chilean wine palms next to the Orangerie

Chilean wine palms next to the Orangerie

Three tulip trees - “exotic” to an early 19th century European

Three tulip trees - “exotic” to an early 19th century European

Deodar cedar (for perspective, notice the humans on the right)

Deodar cedar (for perspective, notice the humans on the right)

Lakeside allée of London planes

Lakeside allée of London planes

Pinus devoniana (native to Mexico-known as Pino blanco there)

Pinus devoniana (native to Mexico-known as Pino blanco there)

cork oak

cork oak

Lake Como - Villa Carlotta

I’m lucky to be visiting Italy’s Lake Como for a week. Just south of the Alps, 10 miles from Switzerland open but as a semi tropical climate. One of the reasons we decided to visit was the multitude of amazing gardens in this region. Our first visit was to Villa Carlotta - a gorgeous Chilean wine palm has clearly survived many winters here. Gigantic tulip trees, European sycamores (Platanus orientalis), some pretty coral trees (Erythrina sp.) and gorgeous gardens.

Two observations from Europe so far-European lindens (Tilia x europaea) are everywhere, and in bloom now with sweet perfume. These trees are a naturally occurring cross between bigleaf (Tilia platyphyllos) and littleleaf (Tilia cordata) lindens.

And second, the European beeches are amazing here in their native region! The tree in the photo below I thought was amazing ports long, straight trunk.

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Yellow New Zealand Christmas Tree in full bloom

I’m often asked about my favorite tree. Not the type of tree I love most, but my favorite individual tree in the entire city. This tree, at 1221 Stanyan Street in Cole Valley, is my personal number one. 

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For starters, the tree is one of the city’s best specimens of New Zealand Christmas tree (Metrosideros excelsa), popular for its showy red bottlebrush flowers. And, indeed, all of the many hundreds of New Zealand Christmas trees on San Francisco’s streets have red flowers, except for one—at 1221 Stanyan Street. Every June, that tree pops with spectacular yellow flowers. And it’s at its peak right now, as I write this post on June 23 (almost six months from Christmas in New Zealand).

How did this tree end up with yellow flowers? The story goes back to Victor Reiter, San Francisco’s most famous plantsman from the 1940s until his death in 1986. (See p. 73 in my Trees of San Francisco book for more on Reiter.) In 1940, there was a natural mutation of the species on tiny Motiti Island in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, and Reiter was one of the first Californians to obtain a cutting. As the Reiter family lived in several homes in a three-block stretch of Stanyan Street, they planted the curiosity in front of their 1221 Stanyan address—still occupied today by a family member. And more than 70 years later, the tree is thriving. It’s a beautiful mutant with an amazing history and pedigree—and my favorite tree in San Francisco.

[The paragraphs above are mostly copied from my book, so a few years old - but here’s a June 2019 postscript: I have a cousin who lives on the west side of Stanyan Street, and her back yard fronts onto the Reiter family garden. She took me into her back porch recently, and I saw another yellow specimen, even larger than the one at 1221 Stanyan, in the garden. There are other specimens of this variety of the tree (the scientific name of the yellow-blooming variety is Metrosideros excelsa ‘Aurea’) in off-street locations - there are a couple in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, at the entrance on the left; there are a couple near the entrance to Fort Mason - they alternate with red-blooming species, which is a cool effect, and I was recently informed that there are a few in Golden Gate Park near the horse stables. It would be nice if the nursery trade had more of them!]

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