It’s early fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Intense heat of August and thick smoke haze from Canadian forest fires finally have dissipated. My sorely neglected garden is a mess but still beckons me outside to explore. This afternoon an arthritic spasm in my right knee prohibits me from doing anything more strenuous than sipping a cup of afternoon Starbucks coffee on the courtyard while I listen to the fountain burbling. Nevertheless, my imagination can take me wherever I’d like to go — like here . . .
I’m beginning a series of imaginary garden tours for the next two months, one each week, spastic knees notwithstanding. Before cold weather moves into the northern regions, we’ll begin in Juneau, Alaska, where we’re get off the “WordPress bus” at Glacier Gardens Rainforest in the Tongass National Forest of upside down trees.
Yes, really! Hemlock and spruce trees have been buried in the ground, upside down, with their root systems pointing upward like branches. The tree roots are covered with heavy netting to hold soil, then planted in a variety of colorful petunias, begonias, and other summer annuals, dracaena, and cascading vinca and bacopa. Each tree holds 75 to 100 plants. Low shrubbery, ferns, moss, and lichen cover the forest floor. Tiny forest flowers nestle in rockery crevasses.
The Tongass National Forest is the largest temporal rainforest not just in North America but in the world, spanning over 17 million acres.
The gardens are privately owned by Steve and Cindy Bowhay who’ve owned a nursery in Juneau for over three decades. The idea for these gardens of upside down trees sprouted after a massive landslide following a storm. Several old-growth hemlock and spruce were damaged severely and irreparably. Without forest growth to prevent erosion, a risk of further mudslide damage would be imminent.
First, the Bowhays began constructing several ponds and waterfalls for water runoff from a nearby stream. During removal of tree debris, one of the larger trees fell off Steve’s excavator and landed upside down, burying itself head down in the soft mud. Naturally spread roots resembled tree branches. Why not plant all the downed trees — or as many as feasible — and plant cascading gardens?
Steve’s idea took root (aha! pun intended). Every year Steve personally plants these Upside Down Flower Towers. Viewed from paths meandering the gardens, they resemble the hanging planters in downtown Victoria, British Columbia, but on a smaller scale. Colors appear stunning against verdant green forest growth.
The Visitors’ Atrium is an event space suitable for weddings and special lectures. It features its own hanging gardens of begonia, petunia, and fuchsia.
Recently, friends of ours toured Glacier Gardens on a cruise stop-over to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Glacier Gardens partners with all major Alaskan cruise lines.