Digging Deeper with Keeyla Meadows at Urban Adamah…

The last day of my long Bay Area weekend was devoted to a Garden Conservancy Digging Deeper program at Berkeley community farm Urban Adamah.

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Urban Adamah was founded in 2010 by Adam Berman as the first urban Jewish community farm in the United States.  The farm’s seeds are rooted in a Connecticut farm-based residential leadership program. Adam envisioned an urban farm that would provide a fellowship program, offer Jewish agriculturally based experiential programs for youth and families, and contribute to food security in the East Bay. The farm moved in 2016 to its permanent home near Codornices Creek in Northwest Berkeley after  five years in a temporary location. The word adamah in Biblical Hebrew means ground or earth.

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A little hard to decipher as the metal sign over the entrance has aged–it reads “Love…all the rest is commentary”.

Berkeley artist and landscape designer Keeyla Meadows was brought in to design a city required swale when the 2.2 acre parcel was a blank slate. She went on to design the Pollinator Garden, the Children’s Garden and work with staff as other parts of the garden have been developed. Keeyla (on the left below) and Emily, the Urban Adamah Landscape Coordinator were our guides.

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We gathered in the center of a large circular planting bed to learn a bit about the farm’s history and philosophy. The core tenants of Urban Adamah are stated in this Mission Statement: “Urban Adamah seeks to build a more loving, just and sustainable world. We ground and connect people-to themselves, to others, and to the natural world. We do this by providing farm based, community building experiences that integrate Jewish tradition, mindfulness, sustainable agriculture and social action.”

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As we start our day together, Zumba teacher Kat leads us in noticing our surroundings and getting in touch with the wind and sky

Keeyla points out that almost every area of the farm has a central open area designed for small groups of people to meet and build relationships. This was a specific request made by Urban Adamah’s founder–places to gather as a community must be plentiful, welcoming and comfortable. The farm is open to the public most week days and is a lovely environment in which to enjoy the outdoors and observe nature at work–plus volunteer workers are welcome! We will explore most of the farm’s major areas, stopping to observe the plantings and ask questions as Keeyla and Emily share the design philosophy and challenges in developing this very young garden.

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We start at the Blueberry Meeting Circle where a ring of sturdy upright logs provide both seating for us and a podium for Keeyla.

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Without sharp eyes you might miss the ring of blueberries planted around the meeting circle, nestled amongst freely self sowing California poppies. Several native penstemons, blue-eyed grass and salvia also make their home here along with many Douglas iris.

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Gardeners are good multi-taskers. As Keeyla describe the soil building and design process for this area, one of our group pulls weeds as she listens. The farm is organic and weeding is a never ending task, especially in areas where self-sowers are allowed to have their way.

The Blueberry Meeting Circle is a charming front garden to the Aquaponic House where four levels of plants are stacked, producing lettuces, basil and other leafy greens.

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This buttery lettuce is planted with only a small amount of bark like material and its roots reaching down into the water below.

The bottom trays now hold a variety of plants being grown for their leaves textural experience, such as the gigantic Gunnera leaf and the surprising soft, almost furry, leaf of its neighbor.

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This tank is home to fish whose waste provides the natural fish emulsion nutrients to the plant via the circulation system of pipes.

We circle out of the Aquaponics House and return to the Blueberry Meeting Circle, a great vantage point to see the full length of the Urban Swale. the farm is adjacent to Codornices Creek which is in the midst of a civic restoration plan. The city of Berkeley required the installation of a swale on the farm’s property to prevent runoff of both rainwater and farm waste water into the creek.

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The Urban Swale, planted entirely in California natives runs from just beside the Blueberry Meeting Circle and along the farm’s front fence line almost to the entry gate.

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Hummingbird Sage

Hooker Creek boulders and Sonoma stone were brought in to form the bank stabilizing structure of the swale. Plantings were designed in repeating color bursts to keep your eye moving down the length of the swale. Keeyla calls this ‘weaving color’ throughout a space. Native plants requiring more moisture are planted lower on the bank while the more drought tolerate plants are higher up. The shape of the swale allows accumulated water to percolate slowly back into the ground. Keeyla’s choice of native plantings in part was to relate the swale to the creek and to honor the area’s indigenous peoples and their stewardship of the land.

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A little closer look at the beehive end. Notice the enormous Verbena ‘De La Mina’!
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Visitor to the ‘De La Mina’

Several varieties of California poppies were included in the original sowing of reseeding annuals. Subsequent seasons have produced some interesting color variations as the result of natural hybridization.

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Looking back as we wander the Urban Swale
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Fledgling bee colony
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Looking across the farm from the Urban Swale end

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As we walk to the far side of the farm to see the Pollinator Garden, Emily shares that this Administration Building was the first permanent structure built on the site; a great accomplishment after five years of a trailer office. The passionflower vines on the office trellises (and on the fences in the Urban Swale) were a concession to a former farm colleague who was instrumental in the early planning days. He loves passionflowers and would regularly harvest the fruit for use in tea and other edibles.

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Urban Adamah gives away 90% of the food it grows. The remainder is used on the farm for events and for use by residents of the farm. They host a weekly farmer’s market for anyone who needs food. Local grocery stores, including Whole Foods, contribute goods not yet produced on the farm. At any given times throughout the year they will produce all kinds of vegetables, herbs, stone and pomme fruits, potatoes, onions, eggs and milk.

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Crops are rotated regularly–vetch, Fava beans and crimson clover are planted as nitrogen fixing cover crops to be tilled back into the ground (after bean harvest, of course).

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The Pollinator Garden is our next stop–a melange of seasonal veggies surrounded by plants chosen specifically for their attraction of certain pollinators. Emily worked closely with Keeyla on the implementation of the design and credits this garden as awakening her desire to not only plant, but also be a designer. As we visit not much is in prime bloom. Emily explains what different shapes and colors are attractive to specific kinds of pollinators–tubular for the hummers vs flat for the butterflies, etc.–and the importance of having something for everyone if you want to maximize pollination.

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The Children’s Garden entrance is home to arbor seating–I haven’t been counting seating areas but I’m sure there at least 10. A young vine is on its way up to give visitors some shade while they get to know each other.

Urban Adamah has a full schedule of family friendly activities, including summer camp. The goals for children are the same as for adults; to build community; to foster Jewish traditions; to learn and practice sustainable agriculture and living.

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The Children’s Garden is only a stone’s throw from the creek and has its own swale to serve the same purpose as the first built Urban Swale. Keeyla also designed this garden and the swale is similar in planting with the exception of possibly more native wildflowers–sowing seeds is a popular activity on this side of the farm. Here you can see the swale emerging from under the bridge to the Earthbench meeting place.

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With the guidance of an educator from the Peace on Earthbench Movement (POEM) children built this garden gathering space using plastic bottles and other recycled materials over several camp sessions. Locally based POEM’s international mission is to encourage youth to turn plastic waste into artistic community gathering places. This is a project I would want to participate in–what fun!

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Looking down the Children’s Garden swale you see art created by children and displayed on the fence.

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A surprisingly unafraid hummingbird

Leaving the Children’s Garden we pass a newly constructed grape arbor tucked up against the street side fence.

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As yet unplanted, the arbor will be home to several grape varieties (you can see the barrels just outside the fence awaiting the vines) for a nascent partnership with the kosher winery directly across the street. The structure was built by local Eagle Scouts–notice every section has seating for several people.

We make a quick detour to the goat pen to meet Lev and Ivy and give them a snack pulled right from the field–and right in front of the Do Not Feed the Goats sign.

These two clearly recognize Emily and know she comes with goodies. They will not let her out of their sight!

On our way to talk about the Seven Sacred Species Garden we stop for a brief art activity. Keeyla has provided us with paper, colored pencils and markers, and string and asks us each to make a wish or a prayer to hang on the farm’s olive tree, telling us our thoughts will be released into the wind. The olive tree is the farm’s focal point, visible as soon as you enter the gate. A universal symbol of peace and one of the Seven Sacred Species, this tree was 42 years old when it was selected for the farm 18 months ago and the variety is one preferred for its oil. It actually sits mounded high because the farm’s electrical and water utilities are underneath it. Rocks were added to stabilize the raised planting area. I’m not sure how much of an olive oil crop you can get from one tree but I’m giving the farm extra credit for covering all the bases.

Had to make a quick trip back to the goat pen to retrieve an errant paper prayer from Ivy!

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The Seven Sacred Species are plants which deeply link spiritual beliefs to the natural world and play prominent roles in the Bible. They are olive, fig, date, wheat, barley, grapes and pomegranate. It was important to the farm’s founder to include these species on the farm and at this writing they have 6 of the seven, lacking only barley.

Several are represented around the entry gate.

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One of several young fig trees on the farm
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Pomegranate in the background–in the foreground is Etrog, a yellow citrus used during the Jewish holiday Sukkot
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Grapes will cover the entry trellis

There is a lone date palm near the Blueberry Meeting Circle and wheat planted in the crop beds. It is fitting that these species closely linked with the Bible would be at home in this place deeply rooted in Jewish traditions.

Our group had thinned a bit by now–many, including me, did not know the extent of the experience and had planned for less time. Those of us remaining took a break to gather fresh herbs, berries, greens and edible flowers to add to salad ingredients Keeyla had provided.

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A fresh dressing was made…
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Our table was set…

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Keeyla had made grape leaf dolma stuffed with barley and currents, polenta, small white pastries with dates, and a blueberry tart. A wonderful challah was the highlight for me–delicious.

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We filled our plates and gathered at a circle of benches to break bread and get to know each other a little better–exactly what Urban Adamah founder Adam Berman would have wanted.

This day was a wonderful experience and I would encourage anyone in the vicinity of Urban Adamah to take a few minutes to see the farm. I will close with a few more photos and several websites for you to get more information if you desire.

Here we go–

For more information about Urban Adamah, its mission and programs go to http://www.urbanadamah.org

For more information about Keeyla Meadows, her art, books and gardens go to http://www.keeylameadows.net

For more information about Garden Conservancy Digging Deeper programs go to http://www.gardenconservancy.org then click on Open Days, then Digging Deeper

For more information about the Peace on Earthbench Movement go to http://www.earthbench.org

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UC Berkeley Botanical Garden Spring Plant Sale…

The second day of this Bay Area road trip is devoted to a visit to the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley to take in their spring plant sale. The sea mist was still hanging in the air as I made my way up into the Berkeley Hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. All I can say is thank goodness for navigation–a mere four miles from my hotel must have had 2 dozen lefts and rights to get to the 2 lane road into the hillside campus.

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The garden’s parking lots were full and signage led me uphill to the overflow parking some 3/4 of a mile away at Lawrence Hall. A free shuttle awaited to ferry us back down to the garden.

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It didn’t take long for me to realize I could not take photos, peruse plants and pull my wagon all at the same time so pictures are few because in this case, plants rule. The garden’s collections are all closed for the sale so only the main walkway seen here is accessible with all secondary paths being roped off.

The Botanical Garden was formally established on the UC Berkeley campus in 1890 with its current 34 acre location in Strawberry Canyon since the property was purchased in 1909. Ten thousand plant types are organized in 9 geographic regions of naturalistic plantings from Italy to South Africa, along with a major collection of California native plants. With the little bits I could see from the sale site I know I want to schedule another visit to see all there is off this beaten path.

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Here are a few vignettes visible from the walkway…

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The fabulous royal blue Ceanothus below was the backdrop for a display of varieties for sale.

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It was identified as Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Kurt Zadnik’ and it was no surprise to me that all of this particular one had sold in the few minutes since the sale opened. It is such a benefit to us to be able to see a plant we buy in a gallon can at its mature size and in excellent health. The common appellation Carmel creeper could lead you to believe it is a prostrate variety–not so!

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There were areas for trees and shrubs, California natives, succulents, shade lovers and sun cravers, houseplants and tropicals but the table with the biggest crowd was the collection of carnivorous plants. Amazing!

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I gathered up and paid for my precious cargo. All but one of the plants I purchased was propagated onsite from the garden’s collection. My booty includes 4 salvias, two of which have been on my acquisition list for a few years, a coveted Campanula incurva to add to a dappled shade area and a pelargonium with interested red patterned foliage. A day with new plants is a very good day for me!

A not so memorable road trip to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show…

My years in Georgia allowed me to be a regular attendee of the Southeastern Flower Show–a fabulous explosion of color, creativity and educational opportunities, not to mention pretty good garden world shopping. I have also been lucky enough to experience the Philadelphia Flower Show and Canada Blooms! in Toronto.

With those memorable garden show experiences in mind I have literally gnashed my teeth that the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show always seemed to fall when other commitments took precedence. From 2009-2012 my hopeful heart actually purchased advanced tickets which went unused because I just couldn’t seem to get there! A week or so ago a whim took me again to their website to check the dates and I was excited to see that the other goings-on in my life had left an open spot to make that road trip for a day at the 2019 show. I was also confused by the fact that this year’s show was to be held at Cal-Expo in Sacramento. More about that was revealed as I read through their website which includes a brief history of the 34 year old event.

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The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show started as a fundraiser in 1985 for the SF Friends of Recreation and Parks and was originally called the San Francisco Landscape Garden Show. Twelve years later the show was acquired by an events company and given its current moniker. The famed Cow Palace was the show’s home for the next ten years until, in 2009, the San Mateo Event Center became its venue and another change of ownership occurred. Yet another event company acquired the show in 2013. 2018 marked a long awaited return to the historic Cow Palace which the event owners had hoped would be its permanent home. According to http://www.sfgardenshow.com “due to unresolved scheduling issues and the pending California State Legislature’s move to tear down or sell off the Cow Palace, the Show has found a new home at Cal Expo, in Sacramento.”

A road trip to Sacramento always offers the chance to visit a couple of good garden centers in the area so with nothing to lose and, as disconnected as it may sound, I set out on the road to our state capitol for this venerable San Francisco event! Having no previous Shows to compare it with I have no idea if the 2019 effort was typical so I am going to fall on the side of positivity and declare this to be a ‘transition year’ with hopefully more vibrant Shows to come. Let me be clear–the local Sacramento gardening community was out in force, represented by numerous specialty clubs, their community gardening organization and their Master Gardeners. Everyone was very pleasant and helpful with their well manned booths offering brochures and experts to encourage and consult. Several had make and take activities for both adults and children. My comments about the Show overall in no way diminish their efforts and participation–a good garden show starts with time and attention from its owner or promoter.

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Master Gardeners consult and advise
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The River City Food Bank’s Growing Circle highlighted the work of the local community gardening collective

Other than the awning in the first photo there was virtually NO SIGNAGE anywhere on the show floor which was one large room. There was neither an information area as you passed through the Main Entrance nor a sign directing you to an information area anywhere else in the Show. There was NO show program or brochure giving you the layout or timeline of what was happening on the two small stages. Toward the end of my visit and while I was in search of a restroom I happened on a pleasant volunteer at the very back of the space in a small booth (also without signage.) She had a pile of printed out maps of the layout attached to a schedule of events and advised me that their color brochures had never arrived. If I’d had a piece of paper, a Sharpie and some tape in my bag I would have made a sign to put by the entrance to let visitors know she was back there!!

The highlights of any flower show for me are the display gardens designed and installed by local landscape designers and contractors. They should be a cutting edge look at what’s new and upcoming in the landscape industry and have always been a source of inspiration for my own garden. The Show’s website has photos from previous years 2015 and 2016 showing 14 and 11 display gardens respectively. In 2018 it looks as though 13 were expected but only 9 appear in the digital brochure online. A preview of this year lists 14 display garden participants but there were only 7 on the floor. Only one of them inspired me to get my camera out of my bag!

A Fire Resistant Garden was the submission of Nathan Beeck from Clearwater Designs Inc. and was not only really interesting but very timely given the recent devastation in areas all over our state.

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Looking across the reflecting pond (which also serves as a water source for fire suppression) to a cosy sitting area

The designer encourages us to think outside of the box to create new California landscapes using materials and plants resistant to fire. The room was dark and the garden’s hard surfaces were also quite dark–a combination which challenged my mediocre photography skills.

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Another view of the pond and  covered structure

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The structure is predominantly steel and the wood that is used has been charred with an ancient Japanese technique called Shou sugi ban which makes it fire resistant. Dianella and ferns have been tucked into pockets to soften the hard surface.

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The pockets allow for greenery at a variety of heights

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The plantings were provided by Brent Cruz of Site One Nursery and were selected for their fire resistance. Everything was clearly labeled and a plant list was available for the taking. This display garden was definitely a winner for me!

Although flower arranging is not a particular interest of mine, flower shows often present interesting themes and challenges to those who excel at this art and I like to walk through just to see how individual flower arrangers meet the task. As with the rest of the venue there was NO signage to give visitors a clue as to what the displays parameters were to be–no statement of theme, zip, nothing. Only after I got home and went back to the website I learned that the flower arranging participants were members of the Sogetsu San Francisco Bay Area group. Maybe I would now know what ‘sogetsu’ is had there been some explanatory or educational signage provided by the show…this is not the responsibility of the participants but of those organizing the show.

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I really appreciated the skill of the bonsai artists whose works were on display. The morning of my visit a number of the contributors to this exhibit were on hand to answer questions but again,  no signage other than what the plant’s owners had provided.

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Just barely starting to leaf out!

A quick pass through the marketplace offered little of interest to me. Although there were several specialty plant vendors who seemed to be attracting interest there were far too many booths of what I consider to be non garden related goods. I have never used a Cutco knife in my garden and I think the window companies are better served at the ubiquitous ‘home and garden’ shows next to the solar companies. Here’s the best of what I saw.

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Lorena’s Edible Garden had lots of herbs and herbal products
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Dan’s Dahlias was the most colorful booth at the show!

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Now if I’d had anything resembling a brochure…I might know the names of these booths! Even after I had accidentally found the lady hidden in the back with the maps I was still in the dark as the booths were numbered on the map but there was no key nor a list of vendor names. If I had paid for a booth with the belief that guests would walk out the door with something in their hands to refer back to that had my business’s name and contact information I would probably be pretty unhappy…

My single purchase was this perky little clay armadillo. My sweet digging David’s childhood nickname was Armadillo and I’m an easy mark for any new ones I can add to my collection.

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This little guy is instantly recognizable to Fresnans as a Margaret Hudson sculpture.

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You got it–I traveled to SACRAMENTO to go to the SAN FRANCISCO Flower & Garden Show and purchased a clay sculpture from an iconic FRESNO artist’s gallery. All in all an efficient and productive day trip, don’t you think?

Generally I have taken the attitude that if I am disappointed in an event or tour I just don’t post about it. There is already enough negativity in the blogging world and no need to add more but my day at the San Francisco Flower & Garden left me with many lingering questions. This show has been listed on more than a few lists of ‘Top Ten Flower Shows’. I have many readers in the Bay Area and would love to know–has the event simply declined over the years with changes of ownership and now location? How did it seem to you compared to previous years? Am I judging too harshly given its transition to a new city and venue? Does this show have a real future in Sacramento? Love to hear your experience and insights on this event.

Origami squared…

An overnight jaunt to Southern California allowed my husband and I a brief visit to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden to view their current exhibit of art in the garden entitled Origami in the Garden2 (actually the little above the line 2 as in the mathematical annotation for squared–no idea how make my keyboard do this.)

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One of two standing cranes by Kevin Box which greet visitors to the exhibit

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden spreads over 86 acres in Claremont, California and is the largest botanic garden dedicated to California native plants. Its mission is grounded by a philosophy of biodiversity and the importance of bringing real world conservation applications to the public through horticultural education, scientific research and sales of native plants. This garden is yet another public resource I never had the opportunity to visit in the decade+ that I lived in Southern California and today because our arrival is already late in the day and the light waning, we will only see a small part of the grounds. Visit their website http://www.rsabg.org for all the details about the garden, its events and resources.

There are no better words to describe this exhibition, an intersection between art and nature which will remain in the garden until April 14, 2019, than those on the website: “Origami in the Garden2 is an outdoor sculpture exhibition of larger-than-life origami creations. Created by Santa Fe artists Jennifer and Kevin Box, the sculptures capture the delicate nature of Origami, a paper art form originating in Japan and celebrated around the world. Crafted in museum quality metals, the artworks each tell the story of a single piece of paper as it transforms into a soaring bird, emerging butterfly, galloping pony and many other remarkable forms. The exhibition features the Boxs’ own compositions as well as collaborations with world renowned origami artists: Tim Armijo, Te Jui Fu, Beth Johnson, Michael G. LaFosse and Robert J. Lang.”

The guide we picked up at the entrance not only contained a map of the botanic garden’s various areas but an easy-to-read as you walked along guide specific to the location of each of the 16 outdoor sculptures celebrating art and nature through the lens of origami. Super cool was an Audio Tour phone number to call on your cell phone to hear additional information from the artists. As you stopped at each sculpture you dialed the number and at the prompt entered the audio tour number listed on both the map and the artwork’s signage. It was really fun to hear the actual artists talk about their pieces and the audio content expands upon what was on the printed placards by each piece. My husband took charge of navigating our route and queuing up the audio for each piece on cell speakerphone, leaving me free to let my senses take in the garden and my camera lens to wander. Unfortunately, this freedom had no immediate effect in improving my photographic skills but I looked very professional, as if I had an assistant along to do my legwork. By the time we had seen seen and heard about each piece it was past sunset and almost dark–and 4:58 pm, only 2 minutes shy of the garden’s closing. Here are a few of my favorites:

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Crane Unfolding by Kevin Box

This sculpture is the first origami-inspired work by Kevin Box and is crafted from painted cast stainless steel on a steel base. In his words, “The origami crane is a symbol of truth, peace, beauty and long life. This crane reveals the meaning of its life as it unfolds into a star.” To him, the folded crane is a representation of what we see on the surface of life, while the unfolded crane is a representation of the beauty hidden beneath–there is more to life than what meets the eye.

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Painted Ponies, a collaboration between Kevin Box and Te Jui Fu, a Chinese origami artist

Painted Ponies frolic in Fay’s Wildflower Meadow. They are fashioned from powder coated aluminum and represent an example of an origami technique called kirigami which means cutting paper. Scissors are used to make four cuts in the paper square and these cuts enable more easily achieving the detail needed for the ponies’ legs and ears. The symbol on the red pony’s hindquarters is a nod to the collaborative nature of this piece. The Chinese character of Te Jui’s last name, Fu, is enclosed in a box representing the metal sculptor’s surname.

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Duo by Jennifer and Kevin Box

The white bird or dove is a global motif recognized as a symbol of peace and the human spirit. In nature, cranes mate for life. These painted cast stainless steel cranes symbolize that quality of pure devotion.

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Duo occupies a peaceful space at the end of a stream bed in the Percy C. Everett Memorial Garden which features examples of grouping together plant material with similar water needs. I loved this large bubbling rock!

Who Saw Who? by Kevin Box, Tim Armijo and Robert Lang stems from a sort of after the fact collaboration. The raptor and mouse in their original origami forms were each cut from single sheets of paper: the mouse by Tim Armijo and the raptor by Robert Lang. Kevin Box cast each in bronze at different times and set them aside in his studio. It was not until he caught a glimpse of them later that they appeared to be looking warily at each other–predator and prey frozen in time and metal.

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Seed Sower & Seed  by Kevin Box, Michael G. LaFosse and Beth Johnson

Seed Sower by papermaker and origami artist Michael G. LaFosse and Seed by Beth Johnson were cast in patinated bronze by Kevin Box. The duo explore the role squirrels play in the life of a healthy forest.

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Nesting Pair by Jennifer and Kevin Box

When Jennifer and Kevin Box built their home and studio together, they were reminded of two birds building a nest. The bronze casted olive branches symbolize peace and compromise and form the nest. The artwork emerged naturally at a time in their life together when they were discovering and accepting the need for compromise to build a happy marriage. The addition of the two cranes, mated for life, resting comfortably on a nest of compromise completes this beautiful and very personal piece. Thank you, Jennifer and Kevin!

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Hero’s Horse by Kevin Box and Robert J. Lang

The origami Pegasus was folded from a single uncut square of paper by physicist Robert J. Lang based on a sketch designed by Kevin Box. The artists’ collaboration eventually produced a 25 foot tall fabricated metal sculpture now found in Dallas, Texas. This smaller version was then created from painted cast aluminum on a steel base. Kevin Box shares, “Hero’s Horse is a story of hope, reminding us that who faced with impossible odds help is on the way and good will always win the day.”

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Folding Planes by Kevin Box

Seven simple folds transform a blank page into an airplane in flight. Each fold is symbolic of a choice or action to transform an invisible idea into a reality and repeats a common theme in Box’s work–the story of a piece of paper dreaming of flying.

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Selected nights throughout the run of the exhibition RSABG will be open in the evening with its pavilions and other structures festooned with luminarias  and Japanese lanterns to see the sculptures by moonlight.

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Conversation Peace by Kevin Box

The term “conversation piece” refers to an interesting or intriguing object that sparks conversation. In this interpretation of the game rock-paper-scissors, the paper has won by folding itself into a peace crane and flying just out of the scissors’ reach. This artwork represents the sculptor’s belief that conversation is the key to the peaceful resolution of serious conflicts, many of which arise from our misunderstanding of each other.

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Rising Peace by Kevin Box

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As we round the gift shop to our last sculpture we have almost totally lost the light. The Johnson Memorial Oval is a wonderful setting for Rising Peace, allowing it to be viewed from all sides. At a distance the family of cranes appear to be rising into the night sky.

Although my focus was to at least see each one of the 16 sculptures I did see many interesting plants. This time of year there is not much expectation that a California native plant garden would be awash in bloom and this one certainly displayed evidence of a long and droughty summer not long gone by.

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A single cluster of flowers on XChiranthofremontia lenzii, an intergeneric hydrid introduced by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. This was a massive tree/shrub with just this one glowing spot of golden orange, clearly the reason its common name is Fremontodendron ‘Pacific Sunset’.

If you are anywhere in the greater Los Angeles/Inland Empire area you still have plenty of time to take in this inspiring exhibition. A more in depth reading of the written materials I picked up at the entrance revealed an extensive educational program and a retail native plant nursery on site. Although this garden is a 3+ hour drive for me I’ve bookmarked their website to check back now and then so I don’t miss interesting upcoming events  I might be able to piggyback on to future SoCal trips.

P.S. Check out http://www.outsidetheboxstudio.com to learn more about metal sculptor Kevin Box, his work and collaborations with other artists!

 

Judy Adler gardens with nature in mind…

A few years ago while searching for garden tours on the internet I ran across the site for the Bringing Back the Natives Tour which takes place annually in the East Bay. Their site http://www.bringingbackthenatives.net is the home of not only the 14 year old tour, but also offers many resources for gardeners interested in native plants, water conservation, backyard wildlife habitats and much more. The May 2018 self guided tour included forty Alameda and Contra Costa County gardens, workshops and a native plant sale. Unfortunately May is a month overflowing with garden touring and educational opportunities (not to mention an intensive  work time in my own garden) and I have yet to be able to participate in the tour.

Their regular and very informational emails led me to sign up for a class last week end entitled Gardening With Nature in Mind and taught by environmental educator Judy Adler at her half acre garden in Walnut Creek. As with all Bay Area road trip type classes, it was an early departure from Fresno and a long day but well worth the drive.

We were a small class which allowed plenty of time for questions and to get to know each other’s diverse gardening interests and experiences. Judy’s home landscape functions as suburban farm, an ecological and horticultural laboratory, a wildlife habitat and a community educational resource. Her passion for nature and sharing the interconnectedness of all facets of the natural world is boundless. A walk around her garden and her so called “trespass area” offers learning opportunities and examples of sustainable gardening practices in play at every turn.

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Judy’s home is one of two in a cul-de-sac adjacent to a Walnut Creek public school. Across the street lies an open area, once a mustard field, that belongs to the school district. Since 1996 Judy has shaped a half acre plot of this land into a biodiverse dry garden which reflects what is able to survive with only rainfall. In the shade of the oaks we learn about the Mediterranean Climate range across the world–areas marked by dry, hot summers and mild, wet winters. The logs you see “planted” in the ground are examples of hugelkulture, a horticultural technique where a mound created by decaying wood debris can produce a planting area with improved soil fertility, water retention and soil warming.

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The spines on this acacia species native to Chile provide cover and protection for birds and other wildlife.

Berries of the evergreen toyon provide winter food for birds and the juicy fruits of the prickly pear has been food for both wildlife and man through the ages.

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Piles of brush and trimmings are left to decay in place, offering additional wildlife habitat as they are on their journey to nourishing the soil beneath.

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This area has many colonies of milkweed. As we encounter stands of now desiccated milkweeds plants, Judy shares a photographic life cycle book of the plants and the monarch butterflies they feed that she has produced as an educational resource.

Of course the area includes lots of spiky things–Judy’s lesson here was to make sure you know the mature sizes of those cute little succulents you put in the ground!

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Looking back toward the hills behind the dry garden. In the foreground are stands of California native rye, Leymus triticoides, which has been fashioned into a maze for young gardeners to explore.

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A short walk back up the street to Judy’s home offered a chance to admire the sculptural quality of the trunks of this group of manzanita.

Prior to class Judy had sent us all electronically a lot of reference material, including a plant list of her garden, a list of resources covering topics such as bee-keeping and permaculture and much more plus a little pre-class homework to learn to calculate rainfall volumes. Judy is all about the water. The fact is that she has very little to work with and is committed to being the best steward of her little piece of the earth’s resources, as well as carrying that message to the general public. I admitted to not doing my homework as our class moved into a discussion of rainwater harvesting. Had I done the math I would have not been so surprised to learn that a roof surface of 2500 square feet could yield almost 30,000 gallons of rainwater in an area receiving only 18 inches of rain a year!

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Here you see Judy as she explains the roof rainwater harvesting system she built with the help of friends and neighbors. The addition of a product called Gutter Gloves as an initial filtering agent allows rainwater to flow off her roof surfaces free of large debris, into a PVC pipe system that then provides a second filter and ultimately routes the water into one of the three 3,000 gallon water tanks just visible over her shoulder. The system is pressure operated with no pump involved. She also uses recycled fire hoses to deliver water to various parts of her landscape!

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A basic botany lesson introduces us to the characteristics of different pollinator insects and blooms in Judy’s pollinator garden give her an opportunity for a pop quiz to review what we have just learned.

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This 1,500 gallon pond incorporates an upper tier bio bog to aid oxygenation. Judy shared that this pond teems with wildlife throughout the year and provides her with a wonderful observation spot.

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This small greenhouse is in full sun part of the day. These recycled containers are filled with harvested water which warms in the daytime and heats the greenhouse when temperatures cool in the evening.

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Raised beds with the remnants of the season remain as food and shelter for birds and insects.

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A pergola to the back patio supports native grape vines. The bright white foliage is a woody perennial shrub called germander which sports bright blue flowers in spring.

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The resident hens participate in the patio goings-on. Judy uses the coop’s manure to enrich needy soil and enjoys both the eggs and the company her girls give her. The chickens are all rescues and relish visitors to the garden as they know there will be a little treat for them!

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During our time with Judy she touched on many topics of interest to gardeners and wildlife lovers alike. Rather than an in depth coverage of any one facet we were able to get a little taste of a diverse range of related subjects and the resource materials Judy shared offered avenues for further exploration on an individual basis.

While my own gardening aesthetic probably will never rise to the level of sustainability Judy practices I absolutely admire the fact that she very clearly WALKS the TALK in all aspects of her life. Her enthusiasm, matter of fact style and plain language is appealing to adults and children alike and I am sure everyone in my class went home having learned at least one new thing–I know I did.

Leaving her garden you see this diminutive art piece with arms raised to the heavens. It is a perfect representation of the joy and peace Judy experiences by observing and being connected with life in all its forms. The art piece was the inspiration for her ebullient garden gate created by metal sculptor Mark Oldland.

Please visit http://www.diablonature.org to learn more about Judy Adler’s life and work.

 

 

Howdy from Austin…The Natural Gardener

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On my first day out on my own before the Garden Bloggers Fling Austin 2018 officially began I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to The Natural Gardener, a destination garden center in South Austin known for its pioneering work in organic gardening and sustainable living. This family, dog, picnic, photographer friendly gardening experience was to be the luncheon destination for my group on Friday during my absence and I figured if it rated a spot on a packed itinerary; it should not be missed. I am still dodging and weaving around angry skies at this point in the day but again my pre-Fling visit did not suffer the gully washing rains that my group would contend with a couple of days later.

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Of course, the colorful annual offerings were right out front
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There was no shortage of spiky things
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Only been in Austin one day and all ready I love the rustic wood and galvanized vibe
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All the pollinator friendly perennials are colorfully tagged to show you what critters favor them

If I were an Austinite, The Natural Gardener would be in my ‘drop by once a week to see what’s new whether I needed anything or not’ category for good quality and well-tended plant materials but the shop’s main draw for me would be all of the other fun experiences and activities appealing to gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Its eight acres offer quiet areas of contemplation, places to swing and sway, lots of garden ideas to adapt, animals to pet and even an enchanted forest. Established in 1993 by John Dromgoole on a neglected farmstead after the site of his Oak Hill organic gardening business fell to the widening of Highway 290, The Natural Gardener has grown to be a vital community resource which includes display gardens, teaching gardens, farm animals, the retail nursery and many areas of wildlife habitat. Check out http://www.naturalgardeneraustin.com to see all this delightful spot has to offer. I’ll show you just enough to wet your appetite!

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The Frog Pond
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The Organic Garden with the Compost Tea House in the background–lots of good educational take home material is available 
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These greens are looking good!
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The Hill Country Stream
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This petite stream was one of my favorite vignettes
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The Herb Garden
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Fun painted VERY LARGE rainwater collection tank
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A small part of the sustainable living picture in play–they practice what they preach
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The arbor marking the return to the retail area is almost indistinguishable from the gnarled trunks of the Milletia reticulata vine
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Looking back into the gardens from the other side of the arbor–notice the Certified Wildlife Habitat sign
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Loved this natural edged planed wood plank siding used with the rusted corrugated metal on the check out shed not in much use due to the weather

Two of the rainwater catch tanks tucked in all over the retail nursery area–they are almost like garden art!

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As I walked up the road I found this whimsical metal gate and a bike hanging around just it case it might be needed
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No interesting thing goes unused
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The Labyrinth and its surrounding benches are a quiet contrast to the garden center and display garden’s bustling activity
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Willie Nelson’s guitar captured in apricot carpet roses
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Entrance to the Enchanted Walk through the woods
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The Butterfly Garden
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Leaving the Butterfly Garden
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Maypop passionflower vine
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The Natural Gardener’s passion for its mission is clear in the sign identifying their outdoor classroom space!
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The Farmhouse Store is a treasure trove for gardeners, birders and butterfly lovers all

Although I almost never purchase plants when I travel out of state (California’s laws about bringing in live plant materials are very specific) I always go to the independent local garden centers to see what’s going on. It’s easy to get the gardening pulse of a region by seeing what’s being sold to the gardeners with boots on the ground, so to speak. With the two Texas plant purveyors I’ve seen so far I am really impressed with the time and energy both have devoted to creating almost magical display gardens to give their customers an idea of what things really look like in the ground and in combination with other plants. Both have worked hard to be garden coaches and create gardening communities–far above and beyond just selling plants. The Natural Gardener’s brochure says it all!

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Howdy from Austin…Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin is the state botanical garden and arboretum of Texas. The internationally recognized botanic garden is dedicated to inspiring the conservation of native plants in natural and designed landscapes. The Center’s website at http://www.wildflower.org has a great overview of its history, mission and programs and states that it “promotes its mission through sustainable public gardens and natural areas, education and outreach programs, research projects, and consulting work throughout Texas and the surrounding region.”

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Founded by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes as the National Wildflower Research Center in 1982 and renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1997, the Center originally occupied land in East Austin and moved to its current site in 1995. A signature piece of Mrs. Johnson’s environmental legacy, it is a must see for any nature lover visiting the Austin area.

The Wildflower Center was to be first up on the Garden Bloggers Fling opening full day schedule–the day I would miss because of my 24 hour trip to Atlanta–and I was determined I would find an open spot for me to see it on my own. At a roadside stop to eat on the way back to Austin after visiting the Antique Rose Emporium I realized it was Twilight Tuesday and the Center would be open until 8 pm. I quickly finished my late lunch, reprogrammed my GPS was off! Later I would discover that my group had been overwhelmed by torrential rain the entire day of their visit and had not been able to see much of the grounds at all. When I visited two days earlier, the skies were periodically dark and threatening (as you will see in some of the photos) but I escaped without a drop.

A FEW QUICK FACTS about the Lady bird Johnson Wildflower Center as taken from http://www.wildflower.org

  • 284 acres total
  • 16 acre arboretum
  • 9 acres of gardens
  • 800 species of Texas natives plants
  • 5 major spaces: Central Complex, Central Gardens, Texas Arboretum, Family Garden, Natural Areas

The buildings and hardscape are constructed with locally harvested stones and designed to reflect regional architectural styles. All of the structures built harvest rainwater into a 68,500 gallon capacity storage system. The Center’s landscapes are managed to support a vast web of life, and have recorded more than 143 species of birds, 15 species of mammals, and 1800 species of insects.

I spent most of my time in the Central Complex and Gardens area, choosing not to stray too far from shelter should a storm catch me by chance. There is easily a full day’s worth of wandering around should you have that much time. The very nature of wildflower gardens is that they are ever-changing and would be equally beautiful, although different, at various times of the year. Membership would be a must for me if I were an Austin resident!

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My first glimpse of what would be lots of beautiful Texas stone put to use creating structures reminiscent of a historic almost ruin-like hacienda and grounds. This water storage tank is part of the rain catchment system–notice the metal water raceway feeding in at the top.

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As you enter the grounds this restful seating area adjoins a shaded wildflower meadow. Not much was in bloom this day but I could see the seed head remain of huge swathes of Texas bluebonnets which would have been a sea of blue only a couple of weeks ago.

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The distant stone arch literally draws you down the long walkway leading to the Central Complex.  This series of vine draped stone columns lends an air of walking back in time into Texas history. The rainwater raceway rests atop the columns.

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The Wetland Pond showcases plants naturally found along streams and ponds in Texas including Justicia americana, commonly called water willow, seen in the foreground with tiny white flowers.

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The water cascades down the rustic stone wall to hit this well worn, mossy rock its base.

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This lone bloom stood amidst a sea of cooling green–I believe this area would make you feel cooler in the blazing heat of summer, even if you really weren’t. This looks to me like  one of the Louisiana irises, often planted in water. The Wildflower Center has a superb plant database on its website and lists 4 native to Texas but this one didn’t look like any of the four.

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I love that the designer/stonemason incorporated planting spots in the inside corners of the archway–a great place to showcase this blue green spiky thing–unless I could see a plant marker that is about as close as I will get on MANY spiky things I encountered on this adventure. Even at some distance my eye was drawn up to this detail.

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Opposite the Wetland Pond, the arched stonework creates a sort of vestibule which almost obscures the modern door into the Auditorium.

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If you read my blog regularly you will have learn that my husband has an almost phobia like reaction to plants trained up any permanent hard surfaces so everywhere I go I take pictures of just that to show him that so far this stone wall has not fallen down yet from the imagined ill effects of green stuff touching it! This scrambler is Clematis texensis, commonly called scarlet leather flower or scarlet clematis. The red balls will open to petite, scarlet, downward-nodding, urn shaped blooms.

Passing under the last massive stone arch reveals the Courtyard anchored by the understated Courtyard Spring.

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Standing in this large area surround by buildings but with a wide open sky, I can imagine an age old Texan hacienda where the work happens during the day in the various parts of the home and then everyone spills out in the cool of the evening to eat, drink and relax.

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Shaded areas create a green buffer between the central open space and the structures, offering some visual softening of the stone and other hard surfaces. The Courtyard offers entry to the Great Hall and Classrooms, the Gift Shop and the Little House. The Little House is a single room structure on the southwest corner designed as a special place for children and includes a kid sized door.

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The Little House has its own back courtyard where many children’s programs are held. This whimsical critter keeps watch on the goings on through a stone opening just at kid level. The Little House also has its own garden filled with native columbine and Salvia greggii ‘Teresa’ as seen below. I love the pale pink tint of the ‘Teresa’ blooms.

 

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This vine draped pergola in front of the Little House marks the transition between the Courtyard and a variety of paths and small garden spaces. You can see a little peak at the Observation Tower just the top of the photo. I am headed that way!

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I wandered past the Color Garden, the Volunteers Garden and the Dry Creek Garden which is nestled at the base of a wall near the Observation Tower. Several mounds of Phlox pilosa, prairie phlox, were growing along the creek bed. I think the surrounding leaves are of Pavonia lasiopetala, a widely used Texas native commonly called pink rock rose.

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The Observation Tower stands tall over the other structures, appearing to be hundreds of years old and should you be able to get to the top, offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding country. The golden ball leadtree, Leucaena retusa, was totally unknown to me but one I would see many times more in both commercial and residential landscapes.

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Look how the weather changed just as I backed up to get a wider image of the Observation Tower. No amount of editing could lighten this up any more. It looked as though the rain was ready to pour down.

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It brightened up a little bit as I approached the meadow flanked pathway to the Luci and Ian Family Garden. There were still a few flashes of wildflower color to be found but given the state of the weather I decided to leave this fairly long ramble for another visit.

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The back side of the Great Hall and Classrooms building has walls of windows with a sweeping vista of the meadow. This small stone terraced bed represents plants found in the rockier mountain areas of Texas including the Yucca pallida, pale leafed yucca, which was coming into bloom. Even though falling in that ‘spiky thing’ category of plants which I have not favored I came to appreciate the structural beauty and wide variety of yucca by the time I left Austin.

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Passing through the Woodland Garden I entered the walled Central Gardens area which houses the Theme Gardens. Each small garden here is indicative of a specific habitat or region and showcases Texas appropriate native plant material. Here is just a sampling:

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South Texas Sampler-highlighting plant material from the southernmost areas of Texas
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Hummingbird Garden-big red sage, flame acanthus and hesperaloe all offer blooms loved by hummers
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Wandering Walkers Garden-honors those botanists whose collection and propagation of native plants made them available for use in home gardens

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These were the first of many stock tanks I would see used in Austin as water gardens and raised planters. Note how the back sides of the smaller ones have been altered to allow them to snug up tight to the larger center one.

The Greenhouses and outdoor propagation areas span one entire side of the Central Gardens.

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The Wildflower Center’s large greenhouse operation propagates plants for the gardens and is the site of research projects.  The annual native plant events offer educational outreach into the local gardening community and a chance for gardeners to try plants they have admired at the Center in their own gardens.

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The Pollinator Habitat Garden contains 350 different plant species, arranged in 10 plant communities designed to support butterflies and other invertebrates throughout their life cycles by offering water, food, protection and appropriate breeding conditions. The garden is an open air pollinator habitat, demonstrating the co-dependant relationship of plants and insects and the critical role of pollinators in biodiversity.

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The far side of the Central Gardens offers another pathway to the Family Garden. Given more time and better weather I think I would make the loop through that garden back to the first path but not today!

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I strolled back to the parking area on what must have been a service road behind the Silo Garden–I could have been 20 miles out in the country if I hadn’t known better–and found these blooms among the meadow grasses.

 

Now…if I only had a good Texas wildflower book!