Magical Friends

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The first time I saw these towering plants, I thought I had entered a fairy tale land.

The Pride of Madeira (Echium) generally grows near the coast in California. But as a native of Madeira and the Canary Islands, it found a welcome home in Sacramento’s WPA Garden. We tried, without luck, to grow it in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden. But it thrives in this enchanted garden tucked inside William Land Park, an urban oasis, creating a perfect climate for Mediterranean and coast-loving plants in our otherwise hot and freeze-sensitive valley.


Pride of Madeira begins blooming in April with towering spikes of violet-blue flowers. At the coast, it is considered invasive. But here, it stays pretty well-behaved.

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Its hundreds of tiny flowers cast a magical spell over bees and butterflies.

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And this one in particular:

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The Pipevine Swallowtail. This tailed beauty has an iridescent blue blue body, white spots on the upper side of the hind wings, and a row of orange polka dots.

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I can almost always find one flitting from flower to flower: two blue beauties – magical friends.

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Inspiration from the WPA Rock Garden

I have taken so much inspiration from my fellow gardeners at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden. With a season under our collective boots, there is a garden closer to home that I now appreciate even more.

It is the WPA Rock Garden at William Land Park in Sacramento.

This three-quarter acre gem is tucked inside the park,

between the quaint Fairytale Town, Sacramento Zoo, the outdoor theatre in the round,

and the duck pond.

It was originally built in 1940 as part of the New Deal’s Work Projects Administration – thus WPA – and has been our city’s hidden treasure for generations.

But it wasn’t always the oasis it has become.

A well-known local horticulturist, Daisy Mah, took over care of the garden in 1988 after it had been overgrown by ivy. This sounds like a familiar tale to our Homeward Bound volunteer gardeners.

Instead of the typical water-thirsty and shade-loving plants you find in neighboring gardens, she planted drought-tolerant plants from the Mediterranean climates.

The paths are laid with decomposed granite; the beds raised with low rock walls.

The naturalized mixture of grasses and perennials, flower and foliage, light and shadow remind me of Ina’s Cottage Garden…

with little surprises tucked into every corner.

Beginning with a budget that would not even buy you a night at the movies – ingenuity, propagation expertise and, as rumor has it, fertilizer originally contributed by the zoo animals, has created this meandering maze of delights.

Daisy Mah has announced her retirement from the City Parks and Recreation department this year.

What will happen with to the garden remains to be seen, with the economy already severely testing city resources.

A great community volunteer effort has risen to the task of maintaining the park, and some have worked for years with Daisy to maintain this wonder. Hopefully, the WPA Rock Garden will continue with this dedicated group.

One thing is certain – Daisy Mah has created a living legacy.

One that deserves our admiration and our commitment to carry on her good work for the generations to come.