Thursday, July 1, 2010

My New Mission is to see all the Missions...First Stop: San Juan Capistrano

It's not like I've never been to any of the California missions before, but I seem to have a renewed interest in the early history of our state, in particular, that era before California was even a state. Hopefully one of the more desirable symptoms of getting older (and therefore more obsessed with the notion of antiquity).

Gil & I have been to the Santa Barbara mission a couple times over the past 10 years, and have been to Mission San Juan Capistrano once almost 20 years ago. I enjoyed those visits, but that's about all I can say or recall of those bygone times.

With this week off for my summer vacation, and Gil only free for a couple days in the mix, I thought it would be fun for a relaxing day trip to revisit the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. So that we did yesterday, and boy - all I can say is that it was really an amazing, fantastico experience. Wonder why I didn't think that the first time around? Well, I can answer that question. Back in the day, I simply was not the gardening fanatic that I am now. And who wouldn't go totally apey/gaga over the gardens at this mission?!


The mission at San Juan Capistrano was founded on November 1, 1776 by Junipero Serra, a Franciscan friar, born in Majorca, Spain in 1713, who made his way to Mexico, Baja California, and then Alta California to establish 9 of 21 missions over the course of 54 years. These missions span from San Diego all the way north to Sonoma. 

Their mission? To convert the Native Americans to Christianity, and bring them into the fold of civilization (and, by inference, creating new loyal subjects for the mother country of Espana). Be that as it may, and however you want to argue the pros and cons of the padres' divine directives, at their height the missions herded hundreds of thousands of cattle, horses, pigs, sheep and goats, and were largely self-sustaining communities. Pretty impressive for such rustic establishments. By 1833, the missions were secularized under Mexico's secularization laws, with dire consequences for the thousands of Native Americans who were supposed to inherit these lands, but who largely ended up with nada through force or subterfuge, which are often two sides of the same coin. Needless to say, thus also began the decline of many of the missions' grounds and structures. For more on the history of the California missions, check out 

So here we are today (or rather yesterday). We joined a free tour of the gardens at Mission San Juan Capistrano with a docent, a lovely lady, originally from England with great accent and matching sense of humor. 

6/30/10 Front Garden. Clockwise, left to right: Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae), Roses, Geranium (potted), and Statice (Limonium perezii).

6/30/10 Front Garden. Birds of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae). 

Mind you, most of these plantings are not original to the mission, but were lovingly planned & installed by a volunteer group of devotees, who wanted to bring some joie de vivre back to the grounds which had kind of gone to the weeds after years of neglect. They've done an amazing job!

6/30/10 Front Garden. Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) & Wand flower (Gaura lindheimeri).

6/30/10 Raised pond in Front Garden. Koi in reverse-cross-eyed mode. 

Bougainvillea around statue of Fray Serra in front of the ruins of the Great Stone Church, which was mostly destroyed by an earthquake on December 8, 1812. 

Front Garden. Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha), Lion's Tail (Leonotis spp.), Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea).

Front Garden. Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.).

Central Courtyard. Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica).

Central Courtyard. Jacaranda Trees in full lavender-hued bloom (Jacaranda mimosifolia).

Central Courtyard.

Central Courtyard. Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo).

Bougainvillea & Jacaranda Trees.

Central Courtyard.

Statice (Limonium perezii). Central Courtyard.

Central Courtyard.

Raised Pond in Central Courtyard.

View of Central Courtyard from Desert Garden.

Mexican Palo Verde (Parkinsonia aculeata). Desert Garden.

Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) and Parry's Agave (Agave parryi). Desert Garden.

Dasylirion spp. Central Courtyard.

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).

Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milli). Central Courtyard.

Central Courtyard.

Silk Oak (Grevillea robusta). Tallest tree at the mission.

In my unbridled enthusiasm, I took over 200 photos whilst here, so I will have to separate the wheat from the chaff and be judicious in my postings. I'll add more if I think they're worth it. For the full gallery, go to

But now I'm revved up for a new mission. Got to see all the California missions sometime in my lifetime. Fuggedabout the "1000 Places to See Before You Die" thing. You really only need 21.


  1. Don't you love how it's so easy to take lots of photos in cool locations like this? Thanks for sharing these. It's been decades since I've visited there, though the train to LA passes right by it and I get a quick view while it's stopped. I like how this mission isn't one that's been so rebuilt and tidied that you don't feel the sense of history there.

  2. I haven't been to the mission in Capistrano since a junior high school field trip. Looks like I need another visit.

  3. I don't blame you for taking so many photos Arleen - I think no matter where you would turn in that place there would be a photographic opportunity awaiting.

    I've never ever heard of your "missions" before so that was an interesting read over at wiki.

    I would love to see a Jacaranda tree in person - the colours of the leaves must just be incredible to see.

    Fab photo of the monarch butterfly - it should be in a nature magazine its so good!

    Happy 4th of July Weekend :) Rosie

  4. Dear Camissionia, thank you for those lovely pictures and informations! Am I mistaken or is the word "mission" in your alias? Be it as it may - if ever we come into that region, I will have a look at one of those gardens!(Took a note into my book with "plans" written on it) Britta

  5. Awesome tour ! What an exciting trip and great photos too, thanks ! Gina

  6. Leonotis. Lion's EAR. (oto-rhino-laryngologist?) Not that it looks remotely like an ear, but the flowers are furry. Furry like a lion's ears. But not very like ...

  7. What a great post, and a great mission...I mean, to visit the missions! SJC is beautiful. Although, looking at your photographs, the gardens are so glorious that it might be easy to miss the buildings entirely! The volunteer gardeners absolutely brought some joie de vivre back to the gardens. They're gorgeous!

  8. James, I almost forgot about the missions until I had to figure out where to go for a day trip on our staycation. It's a serene, beautiful, and spiritual place that just inspired me to create a 'butterfly garden,' over the weekend with Milkweed, Statice, Pentas, Shasta Daisies, Blanketflowers, Autumn Sage, Cosmos, Mexican Marigold, etc. As my hubby would say, another OCD garden project. And, where would we be without digital photography! 20 photos, 200, or mas, it doesn't matter. It's all in the CF card.

  9. James, I totally forgot about the missions until I had to think of a place to go for a day trip on our staycation. A really beautiful, peaceful and spiritual place with loads of garden inspiration.

    Turling - It's a great place to bring the whole family, with self guided or full-fledged tours. Go check it out.

    Rosie, thanks - Btw, Jacarandas are a mainstay here in Southern California, even though they originally hail from South America. In the early summer they can be seen blooming in profusion, literally everywhere. A fav landscape & garden tree in this region.

    Britta, if you're ever in SoCal, I think you'll really enjoy the gardens at this mission.

    Gina, glad you enjoyed the pix!

    Elephant's Eye, you've given me some definite pause for thought with regard to Leonotis.

    Clare, I almost did miss the buildings for the gardens!