Travel to South Africa – a Biodiversity Wonderland!

August 13th, 2015 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director
Photo by Chris Preen

Photo by Chris Preen

I am very fortunate to have traveled to many countries – Chile, Guatemala, Morocco, Australia, many countries in Europe and several others around the world. I am sometimes asked which was my favorite country or trip and it is hard to answer. But I always include South Africa in my top three. Partly that is because of timing – my husband and I had both lost a parent to cancer in the months previous and the worry and grief had taken a toll on us that South Africa helped to release. But it was also because of the amazing plants and animals we saw. The Cape region has very high levels of endemism (plants only found there and nowhere else). We saw species in the lily and iris families that were totally new to us, so many species of heaths we could not believe it (the highest diversity in the genus Erica is there), carnivorous plants, and so many more. Many of these are now being used in the Seattle area and are totally or mostly hardy! There are others that people like Dan Hinkley are working to introduce.

Photo by Salim Fadhley

Photo by Salim Fadhley

We also visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. While nothing approaches the University of Washington Botanic Gardens – of course! – this is one of the finest gardens in the world. The physical setting, next to spectacular Table Mountain, is one of the best in the world. Their interpretation, educational programs, gardens – they are all outstanding! And, as I recall, their gift shop was pretty great too…

Surprisingly, the food in South Africa was some of the best I have ever had. Cream of Lotus soup anyone? It was delicious! We had a smoky mushroom soup that was fantastic too. And the wines! South African wines are some of the best in the world, and so reasonably priced.

Photo by Winfried Bruenken

Photo by Winfried Bruenken

With all of these fond memories, it was an easy YES! when our travel partners, Holbrook Travel, proposed a garden/nature themed trip for August/September 2016 (their spring). They have put together an unbelievable itinerary. Our guided tour will take us to see the wonderful Kirstenbosch Garden, but also one of the oldest gardens in South Africa at the University of Stellenbosch and a 300 year old estate winery in Franschhoek. From there we travel to Nieuwoudtville (I am sure our guide will help us with pronunciation!) to hopefully enjoy the native spring bulb display (somewhat dependent on rainfall) and an opportunity to explore a natural area. We will also be visiting Springbok, with the richest bulb flora in Namaqualand – nearly a third of their 3,500 plant species are endemic! We will end our trip at Kagga Kamma, a very unique place, seeing Bushman cave paintings and animals such as ostrich, lynx, and maybe the Cape Mountain leopard. And if you would like, Holbrook can offer extensions to other game reserves, where you might check off your African Big Five.

This will be a trip that will stand out in your top three, I am sure. Come have an African Adventure with me!

Dates: August 23 – September 6, 2016
Cost: $3,795, plus $300 tax-deductible donation to UW Botanic Gardens
Download Itinerary. Space is limited, reserve your spot today!

Photo by Martin Smit

Photo by Martin Smit

Tour New Zealand’s Gardens

March 3rd, 2015 by Jenelle Clark

with University of Washington Botanic Gardens
Led by Director Sarah Reichard
November 1-16, 2015
Registration deadline: July 29, 2015



Famous for its incredible landscapes and natural beauty, New Zealand’s geographic isolation over millions of years has resulted in unique native flora: roughly 80% of the country’s trees, ferns, and flowering plants are endemic. This remarkable plant life combines with unusual fauna and a vibrant cultural history to create the magical, welcoming atmosphere for which New Zealand is known. During this 16- day program, you’re invited to explore the country’s must-see botanical treasures and view impressive specialty collections. Travel among pristine lakes, green valleys, glaciers, and mountains while enjoying activities and visits to sites of natural and cultural importance for an in-depth journey into the “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

New Zealand Beckons: Join us for a Garden Themed Tour

December 31st, 2014 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

I have a confession to make. For the last three years I have been living and breathing the New Zealand flora, as we prepared and then dedicated our new 2.5 acre New Zealand garden for the Washington Park Arboretum. I have met with people from the Seattle/Christchurch sister city organization and plotted celebrations, and I have described the flora to interested people, taking them on tours through the new garden, spouting off scientific names. I have even see the Hobbit movies and tried to recognize the various species of plants in the scenes depicting Middle Earth.

But I have never been to New Zealand.


Coromandel, New Zealand. Photo by Aftab Uzzaman

Well, all of that is going to change in November. The University of Washington Botanic Gardens is pleased to officially launch a very special tour of New Zealand in November of 2015! Our partners at Holbrook Travel have developed a very special trip for all of us. We will see birds, gardens, forests, and more. It looks like the trip of a lifetime!

We will start out in New Plymouth, where will see the amazing Pukeiti, a rhododendron garden set in a rain forest (remember, it will be spring in the southern hemisphere, so we will see them in flower!). There are more than 10,000 rhododendron plants, with more than 2,000 varieties. While in New Plymouth, we will also visit Pukekura Park, a garden known for its diversity of plants and landscapes.


New Zealand sunset. Photo by Chris Gin

We will then journey to Auckland, where we will visit Ayrlies Garden, world famous for the beautiful garden Bev McConnell developed. We will even be having lunch with Ms. McConnell. While in Auckland we will visit other gardens and a large park surrounding the cone of an extinct volcano. We will be able to take in some Maori culture, hopefully seeing an example of a haka dance. On our last day in Auckland, we will do the activity that may turn out to be my favorite of the trip – we will take a ferry to Tirtiri Matangi Island. It is an amazing example of ecological restoration, turning long-time farms into native bushland and habitat for birds and other animals. We will be lead around the island by a Department of Conservation staff person.


Larnach Castle. Photo by Russellstreet

We will then leave the North Island and head south to Dunedin, on the southeast coast of the island. I am really excited that we will be staying at Larnach Castle and Gardens. The castle is 100 years old and the gardens are known to be beautiful. The scenery is spectacular! In Dunedin we will be learn about albatross and yellow-eyed penguin conservation. We will take the Oroklonui Express train, which hugs the coast, to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. These 750 acres of protected habitat have very rare plants, birds, and reptiles and we will be guided so that we will see more species.

Heading north, we will visit Mount Cook for one night, where we will have the opportunity to explore the area around our hotel or to take a separate expedition to the base of the Tasman Glacier!


Caine Tuawhare carving a bench in the New Zealand Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum.

We will be finishing our adventures in our sister city, Christchurch. After suffering a 6.3 earthquake in 2011, the city is rebuilding, including restoring the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, a place where many people sought refuge after the earthquake. Our sister city officials there have promised us a special welcome! After visits to other gardens in the area, we will visit the workshop of Caine Tauwhare. Caine carved Maori symbols on the very special back slats for a bench in our New Zealand garden. The sister city organization brought Caine to our 2013 garden dedication, where he explained and demonstrated his carvings and performed a mesmerizing ceremony that allowed representatives of the Muckleshoot Tribe to welcome him onto their ancestral lands.

So come with me! We will have so much fun reveling in the rich flora, fauna, gardens, and culture that abound in New Zealand. We will make new friends and have new adventures to last a lifetime! And when we come back, we will visit the garden in the Washington Park Arboretum and remember when and where we saw the beautiful plants that we now share with our visitors.

ITINERARY with cost and full details.

Orchids and Monkeys and Quetzals – OH MY!

July 28th, 2014 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

An Upcoming UW Botanic Gardens Adventure in Costa Rica


Adventure awaits in Costa Rica with UW Botanic Gardens. Photo by Joanna Livingstone

One of the best things I did for myself during my graduate school days – no actually, in my whole life – was to take a two month tropical ecology class in Costa Rica from the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). Besides being in an incredibly beautiful place, I found myself in experiences that challenged me. Because I am a serious plant geek, I have always chosen projects relating to plants, but OTS would have none of that – we were assigned to work with various biologists and did projects relating to their specialties. Therefore, I spend a very memorable night trapping bats with a noted expert from the Smithsonian Museum, with a dawn serenade from howler monkeys all around us. I also worked on leaf cutter ants and poison dart frogs – and plants.

It was such a wonderful experience, that I felt no need to return to Costa Rica – until now. Holbrook Travel has organized a great trip that has many of the experiences I had with OTS, but a little safer. For instance, Holbrook can arrange for us to float in a raft on the Rio Sarapiqui. This river flows through the OTS La Selva station. Our field work was usually done in the morning and we would often run up the river a ways and then jump in the water fully clothed and float back to the field station to cool off before lunch. Between rocks and caimans we were probably flirting with more danger than we should, but we were in our 20s and had that live-forever mentality. I also spent a memorable evening with others in the class on Volcan Arenal, an active volcano, that resulted in our wandering in the dark as the volcano erupted, trying to find the bus that was coming to pick us up. Holbrook has placed us in the lovely Arenal Lodge, where we will be able to view the volcano and engage in a number of civilized activities.


Photo by Dain Van Schoyck

We will also be visiting the high elevation Monteverde Reserve, where I am determined to see the Resplendent Quetzal! Despite many attempts to see this bird in Costa Rica and Guatemala, all involving me getting up in the wee hours of the morning, I have never seen it. In Guatemala I went to the place listed in all the guidebooks as the place you were guaranteed to see one. I heard them calling all around me (lovely call, by the way) but never saw one. To add further insult to injury, the woman who owned the property showed me a time-stamped photo taken the previous afternoon of three of these gorgeous birds sitting on a wire by her house! This time I will see one – I just KNOW it!

So come with me to Costa Rica! I can’t promise caimans and bats (and apparently not a Resplendent Quetzal), but I can promise fun and new experiences. We will very likely see all sorts of critters and certainly some amazing tropical rain forest plants. Oh and here is a tip – when we go out for a night walk to see nocturnal animals, bring a flashlight, but not a head lamp –a 6 inch moth banging into your head repeatedly is very distracting!

Download the itinerary for January 04, 2015 – January 13, 2015. Space is limited so register today!

It’s the People, People: UWBG Heads to Cuba AGAIN!

July 9th, 2013 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

The first time I heard about the plan to issue “People to People” licenses to travel legally to Cuba and have significant interactions with Cuban people, I knew it was something I wanted to do. My memories of hearing about Cuba go back to some of my earliest years.  I applied to the U.S. Department of Treasury that first year, was awarded a license, and off flew our intrepid group in 2012.  We met amazing people and had adventures both in Havana and in the nearby countryside and beyond.


Talented young students in the KORIMACOA Project entertain us near The Bay of Pigs


During the second year our trip was organized under the auspices of another licensed non-profit called the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. This trip also visited many of the same sites, but we were much more successful at bird-watching on this trip and it was a revelation to me.  Our skilled guides helped us to see more amazing, endemic, birds than I could have ever imagined.

Farm - Miquel with tumeric

Miquel Salcines explains about some of the products made at the organic farm near Havana

After I returned from this trip, I thought I would not return for at least a few years. Two years in a row was fun, but there are so many other great places to visit. But – the people I met in Cuba stayed strong in my mind. There was our first guide, Frank, whose mother got him through the starvation of The Special Period by getting him to focus on playing the piano. Our second guide, Yuli, talked frankly about being a young woman growing up after the Revolution. We watched her transform from a city girl who thought nature was icky, to an avid binocular-grasping birder calling out bird names in one afternoon. On both trips, my counterpart at the National Botanical Garden, Dr. Angela Leiva Sanchez, talked with the same passion about “her” Garden as I talk about “mine.” Miquel Salcines and Norma Romero shared with us their stories about how Cuba was forced during The Special Period to embrace the principles of organic gardening, and how their innovative Alamar Organoponic Garden has provided food and so much more to the cooperative.  On this last trip, we met with Dr. Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat, for a very frank discussion about Cuban-American relations. We saw very talented young people perform at both the Opera de la Calle and the KORIMACAO Project. And the person who returns to my mind most often is a young botanist, Alejandro González Álvarez, at the National Institute for Research on Tropical Agriculture, who was filled with enthusiasm about plants and about the future. He would dearly love to be able to attend botanical conferences and workshops outside of Cuba. I have been unable to make this happen, but I do intend to keep trying.

I left Cuba this year, fully intending to not return for a few years, if at all. But people continued to ask me about whether I was going in 2014 and after a while, I realized that I was not ready to part from these people. One thing that really surprised me was that even though American visitors  to Cuba have greatly increased the last two years, all of these people, and those who stopped us on the streets of Havana, were so excited to meet us and share with us. I was stunned to find that in 2013, the people we had met with in 2012 – even just once – remembered me and were happy to see me return with more people. Our first guide, Frank, recognized me in a restaurant and warmly greeted me. Alejandro wanted to show me things that had changed since my first visit, with great pride.

So… UWBG is going to Cuba in 2014! Come with me and make memories of your own! Enjoy the stories, the plants, gardens, agriculture, birds, and so much more.  But it really is the people that will stay with you, people. Don’t miss this opportunity to share with them on our People-to-People trip. I plan to lead a trip to New Zealand in 2015 and because it would be at about the same time, I really won’t be going back for a while after this.


Our nature guide in Soroa, Alberto, tries to lure birds by making very realistic calls, while our guide Frank (in red) and members of our tour watch

Chile Tour 2011: UWBG Professor Sarah Reichard reports on a plant-filled tour of Chile

January 6th, 2011 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

We’re off to Chile for gardens, forests, wine, and adventure! Dan Hinkley and I are taking a group of 12 free spirits to this beautiful South American country for two weeks of adventure and camaraderie.

It has been 23 years since I was last in Chile, doing field work for my Master of Science degree on Drimys winteri. It was a very different place politically, under the leadership of the military dictator, Augusto Pinochet. The country is now a democracy that elected a woman president in 2006, so I am expecting social change, but I hope the country is still as beautiful as I remember it. We will be going to many of the same places I visited in 1988, such as Volcan Osorno, where I recall seeing the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria auracana) silhouetted against the dramatic snow-topped mountains – I expected to see dinosaurs come wandering by!

Volcan Osorno in Chile

Volcan Osorno looks little like Mt. Rainier, but the vegetation around it is totally different!

We have worked with Holbrooke Travel to provide a diversity of experiences for our group. We will start out in Santiago, where we will meet noted landscape architect, Juan Grimm. He will be taking us to several special award-winning private gardens, some of which he designed. While in the north we will also be spending a day in Maipo Valley tasting wines, including those of Vina Undurraga, one of the oldest wineries in Chile.

We then head south to the Lakes District, including Valdivia, where I spent much time while working on my thesis, so I am really excited to see it again. The emphasis on this part of the trip will be on the amazing forests of this region. We will be visiting a 160 coastal private reserve, where we will see rare native plants, such as Fitzroya cupressoides (alerce), which is related to our western red cedar.  We will also visit several national parks and see the Philippi Botanical Gardens at Temuco University – it is the oldest botanic garden in Chile.

Fitzroya photo

Fitzroya has been overused for wood and is now considered rare

Our final destination is one of the most beautiful spots on earth – Torres del Paine. This huge national park has spectacular rock formations and an amazing flora and fauna. The diversity of plant forms leads to large mammal populations, like guanacos, a few species of fox, and pumas. We may also see the Andean condor!  The weather there can be a little unpredictable, but we are hoping to hike and possibly kayak while we are there. We are going to be staying in yurts at Patagonia Camp, which sound really fun. The camp has been built to have minimal impact on the environment, while allowing guests to fully experience the nature that surrounds them.

Torres del Paine massif photo

This is the iconic Torres del Paine massif, which gives the National Park its name.

Technology permitting, and with the help of UWBG tech whiz, Tracy Mehlin, I will be blogging about our trip on this page, so check back starting around January 18th to join us virtually on this trip.

Sarah Reichard, Professor and UWBG Associate Director