Puerto Vallarta: An Exquisite Time Away

We’ve just returned from a three-day getaway to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. What an exquisite place! Mike traveled there on business earlier in the week, and I followed Friday and stayed through the long weekend. We flew home late Monday night.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

View from the balcony of the Westin Hotel, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta sunset

Puerto Vallarta sunset the evening I arrived

After our protracted recovery from the flu, this trip was exactly what the proverbial doctor ordered.

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

We walked along the beach, read, took naps, and explored the grounds of the gorgeous resort hotel.

We enjoyed fruity drinks with our tortilla chips and guacamole in the casita facing the sea. San Jose has a heavy Mexican influence, but it was still fun to enjoy a dish that originated in Mexico.

 The name is derived from two Aztec Nahuatl words—ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce).

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

I’m always intrigued by the local wildlife, like this clever black bird, called a Great-tailed Grackle. He seemed to know that he could swoop in for a chip, after they cleared the dishes.  He knew not to approach any of the tables with guests, but as soon as the dishes landed on a clearing tray, he made his move. Once he claimed the chip, he flew into the rafters, hopping and chirping from row to row.

On Saturday night, we ate a spectacular, five-course vegetarian meal at Café Des Artistes by Thierry Blouet. Their website describes it as

” French cuisine with Mexican inspiration. More than 25 years being the gourmet tradition in Puerto Vallarta.”

The Café Des Artistes is carved into the hillside and sits above Old Town, the heart of the city.  The main floor is a bar, with the upper two stories featuring open-air dining under the trees. They seated us on the third floor surrounded by towering bamboo and ancient trees. From there we could look down on the garden terrace.

I could go on and on about this place, but instead I’ll sum it up in one, long sentence: Dining in Puerto Vallarta with the man I love, sitting under a canopy of trees wearing a sleeveless dress with live music playing while enjoying a full-course vegetarian meal, served by a charming and devoted team of wait staff who delivered a story about each wine pairing left me breathless.  What a night!

After our meal, we walked along the strand in Old Town Puerto Vallarta before heading back to the hotel.

Three days passed quickly. We hope to return for a longer stay, to experience whale watching, snorkeling and other local activities when we have more time.

Our hotel was an easy walk to the harbor filled with boats and lovely vistas, and of course we couldn’t help but price the local real estate.  It never hurts to look, eh?

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of our trip highlights.

Turtles sunning themselves in a pond next to a Japanese restaurant.

The hotel cat name Mitzy

Some of the brilliant colors of Mexico

Con afecto, Alys.




Mid-Week Trifecta at the SF Flower Show

Wednesday, was opening day at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show.  It was also the first day of spring and a day out with good friends, the perfect, mid-week trifecta.

So…two out of three ain’t bad.

The mere mention of the word ‘spring’ puts a bounce in my step.  Seeing two girlfriends for a day of hang time was awesome as well.  It was the much-anticipated show that left me feeling a bit deflated.

The show changed venues over the years and seems to have decreased in size and spectacle, perhaps a sign of the times.

At the heart of the show are display gardens.  This year’s theme, Gardens Make the World Go Round, featured the ‘World’s Largest Rotating Succulent Globe.’  That was pretty cool, though not something the average gardener could reproduce out back.  It’s been entered into the Guinness Book of Records.

Rotating Succulent Glove

Rotating Succulent Glove, Designed by Robin Stockwell of Succulent Gardens

Beyond that, only two gardens caught my eye.  The first was ‘Thailand,’ a silver-medal winner designed by Bay Maples, featured below.  The second, ‘Mexico: Inside Out’ swept the awards.  More on that later in the week.

I spoke with designer Alan Hackler who, coincidentally, also lives in San Jose.  He’s passionate about re-purposing resources, and is known to stop at construction sites, to reclaim materials for use in client projects. Hackler’s show entry featured planter boxes made from old garage doors, reclaimed lumbar, a used pond liner and other reclaimed materials.  The ‘temple’ also features the window panels from former garage door.  Fun!  I loved the aesthetic and his enthusiasm for his art and craft.  The design was restful and inviting.

Alan Hackler, Bay Maples

Alan Hackler, Bay Maples

Thai Temple garden show

Thai Temple Garden

Temple built with reclaimed materials

Temple built with reclaimed materials

From the program:

Inspired by the Buddhist temples of Thailand, our garden is intended to evoke the tranquility and simplicity of an ancient meditation space. Ecological gardening techniques featured are salvaged and re-purposed materials, locally sourced materials, and water efficient plantings.

Thai garden water feature

Recycled pond liner, boxes made from old garage doors

The garden features only California native plants to demonstrate that water conscious, climate appropriate plants can be used to achieve nearly any garden theme or motif. All Redwood logs were sourced from two downed trees salvaged from the Santa Cruz hills. Another water-smart feature about our garden is the recirculating aquaponic vegetable beds. This is inspired by the flooded rice fields of Thailand.

thai garden edible garden

Thai Edible Garden

Bay Maples: Wild California Landscapes

The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show runs through Sunday, march 24th, 2013

Hummingbird Quandry

We’ve often wondered if the hummingbirds at our feeder are the same year round. It lead me to do a bit of research on the migratory habits of the hummers native to our area. Last week I saw this charmer at our feeder, unruffled by the cooler temps and the rain. Was this one passing through, staying for the winter or about to leave town?

Hummingbird October 22nd

Hummingbird October 22nd

According to World of Hummingbirds, Allen Hummingbirds like to winter in Northern California but spend the summer in Mexico. So who’s been visiting in the summer? I used to think we had Ruby-Throated Hummers at the feeders, with the flashy iridescent red chest, but I’ve since learned they migrate on the east coast of North America and Canada.  Then there are Anna Hummingbirds.  Anna’s are one of the few year-round residents of California.  They can handle temperature extremes, so no need to winter in Mexico.

Following are the hummers we’ve seen in our garden this year.  Descriptions from World of Hummingbirds are at the end.  Who do you think we have visiting our feeders?

Hummingbird February 25th

Hummingbird February 25th

Hummingbird August 4th

Hummingbird August 4th

Hummingbird August 24th

Hummingbird August 24th

Hummingbird October 22nd

Hummingbird October 22nd

North American Hummingbirds

Halloween Countdown

Lying pumpkin

Lying pumpkin


My Beautiful Garden Bench

garden bench with pumpkins

Our growing collection of pumpkins
(Note the tiny ones at the top. They didn’t turn orange in time, but will make excellent “eye balls” for one of the Jack ‘O Lanterns on Halloween.)

I attended the SummerWinds Nursery fire sale last week, and brought home a beautiful, forged-iron bench.  Made in Mexico, it features scroll work along the back and a heart-shaped seat.  I’m organized at heart, so it was impossible to resist.

My son was with me at the time, and looked askance at the cold, hard bench. I assured him that I had something else in mind, and it didn’t include seating. Under typical circumstances, I would admire the bench, dream of all the things I could do with it, then move on. It seemed extravagant to buy such a pretty bench as a plant stand.

We walked around the nursery parking lot, looked at what little remained at the fire sale, then worked our way back to the bench. The one-of-a-kind lovely was still there, with a fire sale price of 30% off. Further, 10% of the proceeds would benefit the San Jose Firefighters Burn Foundation. We paid for our purchases and into the car it went.

Coincidentally, we harvested our great pumpkins that same evening,  I brought home the perfect seat for our pumpkins. Once harvested and weighed on the Wii Fit, I relocated my beloved coleus to the back porch, creating a place of honor for our great pumpkins.  You can view the pumpkins seated on the bench from the street. It will be the perfect place for the Jack O’ Lanterns once carved.

Today we harvested the last five pumpkins, making room for the winter garden. My seeds are calling me. Time to get busy!

Go to the SummerWinds Almaden Nursery Facebook Page for updates on sales and plans to rebuild.