The Red hot poker (or torch lily) is prominent throughout Africa, and grows wild for miles and miles across the flat green plains of Kitulo National Park. They are tall and bright blooms, that wobble so colorfully in the wind.
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Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler
The Red hot poker (or torch lily) is prominent throughout Africa, and grows wild for miles and miles across the flat green plains of Kitulo National Park. They are tall and bright blooms, that wobble so colorfully in the wind.

God’s Garden

Dear Janet,

Somehow I know that you love flowers–so do I.

I mean, who doesn’t? I wonder if that is even possible, since like animals, flowers are such a huge and vivid ingredient of nature–symbols of such emotional depths that where words fail, we trust flowers to transport our love and sympathy and friendship with their color, shape, and scent.

I am writing to you from the world’s first national park dedicated solely to flowers. Tanzania’s Kitulo National Park was only founded in 2005 upon a designated patch of high mountain plain some 8,500 ft (2,600m) up. Getting here was not easy. I flew on a tiny bush plane, then drove for several hours up a hairpin dirt road, back and forth, up and up until the forest disappeared and beneath us lay the entire valley of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, several thousand feet below.

This is the thing about Tanzania–you can just be driving along, or even walking along, when suddenly, you stop and the scene before you knocks you over the head, hard, like a falling coconut. This is when you stop and listen to what you are looking at, remembering it deeply and wondering how you got so lucky to see it. For me, this was my feeling as we mounted the highlands of Kitulo with the twisting trees and mud huts perched in the hills, then entered a zone without any people at all–only flowers. Fields and fields of nothing but brilliant, tropical flowers. You would have loved it!

As I travel from one national park to another, I am most amazed by how different each one is, and how they do not resemble each other in the least. A few days ago I was in bone-dry Ruaha, dabbing my forehead from the imposing sun and chugging 1.5 liter bottles of water like they were Capri Suns. Now I am Kitulo, where my kind flower guide encouraged me to “bring a coat” since the temperature would dip to a frigid 53° F (12° C).

I tried to keep a straight face, yet failed, and smiled uncontrollably when I explained that I would cope fine in my long-sleeve shirt in such temperatures. The other Africans that I was traveling with found it too cold, and stayed bundled up in the car, while I roamed about the flowered moors of Tanzania’s highlands.

Indeed, the green and slanted mountains (drowned in mist) reminded me of Scotland, hued with flowers, except up close the flowers look practically prehistoric in their odd sizes and shapes. Kitulo had the strange effect of erasing the rest of the planet from my mind, so that at that moment, the whole of this place became the only world I knew: full of flowers, honey-scented, mysterious and cinematic.

Lastast year I drove right past your farm in the Ottawa Valley, which is another beautiful and fertile green part of Earth. Unlike the surround red earth of Africa, Kitulo is incredibly fertile with its rich black volcanic soil, not terribly different from spots I have seen in Ontario and in the American Midwest. Somehow I find the whole concept representative–that this mud from which springs light might look so uniform–so similar from one spot to another–and yet each plant that pushes through has so much individuality.

I saw this especially in Kitulo, where at least thirty of the flowers are endemic to Kitulo and not at all like anything you would ever plant in your garden in Canada. Like the mangabeys of Udzungwa, I am s0 grateful that some of nature’s most fragile areas have been set aside for protection.

My time in Kitulo was too brief and yet my eyes felt something remarkably new and different, which is all we can really expect from good travel. I think you could spend a lifetime wallowing in the extraordinary blossoms of Kitulo–it was simply heavenly. So much so that without question, I concur with the local name for this wondrous place in Swahili: Bustani ya Mungu–Garden of God.

I hope you are keeping well and that somehow, as you enter the real Canadian winter, you have some kind of warmish flower in your life.

If not, then look upon these pictures and know that bright equatorial sunshine fed each and ever one. I send you the sun’s rays from the southern hemisphere and thank you personally for traveling with me online all these years.

Your Friend in God’s Garden,


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Kitulo National Park (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)