My recent vacation to Hawaii, where I was surrounded by palm trees and stunning tropical flowers, had an interesting effect on my opinion of my own humble garden. It actually made me appreciate it more.

It's not the reaction I expected. I had dreaded coming home after communing with such dazzling flora. Colorwise, the only thing I have that can begin to compete with the vivid reds, oranges and yellows of Hawaii is a garden flag. It's not that my garden is colorless. It's just that it pales in comparison.

This feeling of garden trepidation is not new to me. I grew up in New Mexico, where vibrant hues are few and fleeting. Except for the cactus blooms, which fade all too quickly, gardens there are mostly colored by sunsets and imagination.

I love the desert and appreciated the subtle colors of summer, but after I'd visit anywhere lush, it took weeks to wash the brown out of my perception.

Passion on holiday

If you've been to Hawaii, you know that every view is a vista, and the gardens are so brilliant they can make your eyes hurt. This, I thought, is where passion spends its holidays, cradled in the overgrown jungles, the thick petals of the amazing blooms, and in the papaya, coconut and banana trees that are, in the words of locals, "choke" with fruit.

And if you get bored with the pinks and purples of bougainvillea that grow with abandon on every hill, you can admire the chickens that run wild. Scattered by hurricanes and rarely bothered by predators, these birds roam the parklands in a feathered glory that must put the Rhode Island Reds to utter shame.

I took hundreds of photos and spent my idle hours envisioning a tropical garden in my front yard. Then my vacation was over, and I unpacked my delusions along with my suitcases. I live in Antioch, which is no tropical paradise. Trying to make my garden one would only torture me and the plants.

But as I resigned myself to reality, I began to realize there are people in Iowa who are dreaming of California, so why was I hanging my head in self-pity? I may not be growing banana trees and ornamental gingers, but I do live in a place where gardens burst with color and the exotic.

My glorious blooms

As I hacked through a lawn that hadn't seen a mower blade in three weeks, I gave my garden a good look. Yes, the grass I battle in my front flower bed has gotten a good toehold in my absence, and the weeds in the backyard are aspiring to be trees. But my roses are in bloom, including the rose a dear friend gave me in memory of my mom. My peony has once again returned from slumber to bloom in brilliant white with delicate strokes of pink. Almost all of my many succulents have bloomed -- something that always seems just shy of miraculous and therefore even more special to me. Even the California poppies, my favorite flower and one that I encourage beyond reason to reseed, are still showing off their golden blossoms.

Everywhere I look, color.

So I don't have a tropical garden. Instead I've got something even better -- a garden that reflects my quirks and interests, that thrives even when I neglect it. Most important, it's a garden that welcomes me home.

Contact Joan Morris at 925-977-8479 or jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com.