Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for May, 2012

Blake Garden

“A garden is a creation in space and time and must be planned as an ever-changing composition in which human beings at any moment can become the central figures.” Geraldine Knight Scott

I feel like I haven’t been photographing gardens much this spring, so I went up to Blake Garden to take some pictures this week. The garden is only a couple of miles from our house and has an interesting backstory, so I’m not sure why I haven’t posted about it before. I first went there eight years ago, when Anita graduated from Cal; the landscape department owns and runs the garden and holds its graduation ceremony there. Since then I’ve gone a few times. This time I did a little research on the garden before I went, reading a short book about the garden put together by some of Anita’s classmates, and looking through the oral history and the historic photos on the garden’s website. It added quite a bit to my appreciation of the garden.

The garden goes back to the 1920’s. There’s a big house which is the official residence of the president of UC Berkeley, though it’s currently empty. Mrs. Blake was a gardener and her sister was a landscape architect, so they went all out on the landscape. The sister made a formal, Beaux Arts style design, and then over a span of thirty years, they added a ton of plants, apparently getting up to about 2,500 species at one point. Plant ID classes from the university often went up to the garden to study the plant collection, and some of the faculty befriended Mrs. Blake, so when she passed away the property was donated to the UC Berkeley landscape architecture department with the understanding that the university could do what it wanted with the house but that the garden would be maintained at a high level and used as a teaching resource for the students.

Geraldine Knight Scott, who was teaching at Cal at that time, made a plan for the garden that kept the core of the Beaux Arts-style design in place around the house, but adapted the rest of the landscape to a more modern layout, with parking for the public and a new gate and some changes so that the president of the university could live there and host events. From what I can tell, not everything in Scott’s design was implemented — one of her main tasks was editing, several people in the oral history say the garden had become a jungle, and Scott said she spent three years just taking out plants to make space — but the important thing is that the garden became a place for the students to study and work and try stuff out, which continues to this day. Plant ID classes still go up there, students in the construction classes build things there, and there have been student design competitions for trellises and so forth. When you walk around, you get a sense that there are several layers of the garden — the formal elements from the twenties, the plant collecting begun by Mrs. Blake, the mid-century modern layout by Scott, and the scattered student projects. So it’s a historic garden, but not really rooted in a single time period, and it’s still changing and evolving. I seem to find something different every time I go.

This is the formal area from the 1920’s and the part that has changed the least.

Throughout the garden, you can see some of the more formal 1920’s elements juxtaposed with some of the mid-century elements from Scott’s redesign, like here where there are two entrances, the original entrance with classic 1920’s-era Berkeley stonework and the second entrance from when they made it a public garden.

There are a lot of nice trees, especially oaks. This wall is from Scott’s redesign, separating the formal part of the garden from the more modern section.

Scott made a big curvy lawn for hosting events. It was reduced in size recently to save water, but it still vies with the reflecting pool to be the central point of the garden. Anita’s ceremony was held around the reflecting pool; this year the landscape department’s ceremony was here on the lawn.

More photos are below. (more…)

Bamboo Shadows during the Eclipse

Wow. I hope everyone got a chance to enjoy the solar eclipse in person or at least through some of the photos around the web. Anita and I got up on the roof of the new office to see it and play with the pinhole camera effect, making shadow puppets on the side of our neighbor’s house. The leaves of our bamboo had a beautiful scalloped look. You can click to see the photos larger.

May Bloom Day with Young Dog

Various Plants with Woodland Strawberry Groundcover

This bloom day we have a lot blooming, mostly in our outer garden, including Alliums, Sidalcea, and Campanula in the photo above, plus Hebe, Columbine, Salvia and others in full bloom off-camera. The inner garden has some things in bloom, but in transition between the first wave plants like the California Poppies and the Meadowfoam which already finished, and the second wave plants which are mostly just budding. The inner garden will probably go back to being the star by this time next month.

Carla with Poppies Blooming Last Month

Last month, I took a photo of the garden’s newest inhabitant posing courteously beside the Cal Poppies, but for some reason it didn’t make it into the post. This month she mostly seems to pose on top of the blooming plants, in this case Snow-in-Summer, rather than beside them. We actually have three different patches of Snow-in-Summer, and each of them seems to be the most comfortable at a different time of day, so Carla moves between them as the sun moves. Past dog inhabitants of our garden have also really liked to lie on the Snow-in-Summer, so it’s not just her. Those past dogs were fosters, but Carla is ours for keeps. Overall, she’s been pretty nice to the garden, which wasn’t originally designed to with a young dog in mind.

Carla with Poppies Cut Back This Month

Dicentra Bachanal

The garden has been accumulating Bleeding Hearts over the last couple of years to where we have almost a dozen now, mostly in containers. “Bachanal,’ above and in the foreground of the second photo with Carla, is the darkest, and the rest are the straight species but vary in how much pink they have. The one below is the palest, with just a touch of color.

Dicentra formosa

Blue Dick, Dichelostemma capitatum

I dumped some Blue Dick seed in a few containers of potting soil a couple of years ago, and this year they’re putting out their first few flowers. One of the easiest plants I’ve ever grown from seed, but slow. Next year they should be mature enough to make a decent show. The native alliums have reseeded a bit in our yard and we’re getting our first flowers from the volunteers this year.

Allium unifolium

Allium christophii

Some of the biggest flowers that we get all year are blooming right now. This non-native allium, A. christophii, has pom-poms bigger than my fist, and several kinds of hybrid Irises are going. There would have been some of them in that first photo at the top of the post, but they were cut for a Mother’s Day bouquet that Anita made. I handed off the bouquet and then realized I should have photographed it to add to this bloom day post. Ah, well.

Dutch Iris

Matillija Poppy aka Fried Egg Flower

The first Matillija Poppy opened this weekend.

Exterior Wrapping

Also our first Breadseed Poppy. We have a lot of them for some reason this year, in several parts of the garden. They’re more like a gift-wrapped package than any other flower I can think of, tissue paper on the outside and Fabergé egg inside.

The Prize Inside

My thanks to Carol at MayDreamsGardens for being the creator and host of Bloom Day. Click over to her blog for links to tons of other bloggers showing off their flowers.

Watercoloring the Empty Quarter

I mentioned that lately I’ve been taking an evening class to learn watercolor. I’m interested in using it for location sketching and possibly for the drawings we do for clients, but so far almost everything I’ve done has been indoors after the sun goes down, working off black and white photos. Not exactly location sketching, but it has been pretty helpful. The photos give a good sense of value and because there is no color, I feel free to experiment. The colors tend to turn out differently than I plan, but because it’s from black and white no one can tell.

After some casting about and experimenting, I’ve ended up working from a series of photos by Wilfred Thesiger. A little random, but I had to choose something to paint and I’ve loved his photos for years. He was the last of the old-school desert explorers and one of the all-time great travelers. Arabian Sands about his explorations of the Empty Quarter of Saudia Arabia is one of the great books of travel literature; The Marsh Arabs, about his years living in the marshes of Iraq is also great; and the compilation, The Last Nomad, is one of my favorite books. His writing describes the landscapes and cultures with an amazing clarity, and the photos are powerfully evocative and certainly don’t need any coloring efforts by me. There’s a selection of photos here, but really his work is best appreciated in an old-fashioned, dead-tree book with text and images together. Both his photos and the writing have an unsurpassed stark black and white expressiveness.

I confess I don’t know a whole lot about the places I was drawing. The town above is named Shibam, in Yemen. Below is a place called Liwa Oasis, showing that ‘oasis’ is very much a relative term.

The others are scenes from the Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world.

We’ll see how much watercolor I do going forward. I did feel like it got its hooks into me, so these probably, hopefully, won’t be my last.

Watercolor Interlude

I’ve been watercoloring quite a few of my evenings lately. It’s been fun; there’s improvement, though watercolor’s definitely one of those things that takes a minute to learn and a lot more than a twelve week class to master. The sketch above is from the class field trip to the Legion of Honor Museum. We were there to draw from the artwork, but I thought the building itself was impressive, as if it were waiting for Stanley Kubrick to come do one of his slow tracking shots through the enfilade. Bear with me if posting slows for a little while, the watercolor has been cutting into my blogging time.

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