Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


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.

These are some of the student projects.

This trellis was built by landscape architect Garrett Eckbo for the SF Flower and Garden Show and then was sitting abandoned in storage on the UC campus so the garden manager of Blake decided to install it. It’s cool, but there’s something about seeing a shade structure sited beneath two mature oak trees that makes it feel kind of like a student project. Which is kind of a cool thing, that the work of the old master blends with the work of the students and actually has the least prominent site in the garden.

There’s a redwood grove that dates back to the early years of the garden and some oak woodland and chaparral plantings that have a nice mix of natives and non-natives.

The garden has a large area of annual flowers with a few veggies. Right now it’s especially full of poppies.

These are pretty but a part of me wants to sternly say to them, ‘You’re not a rose!’

These are better. I think our garden could use some of these red ones.

Our house would be visible in this last photo if they took out a few more trees on the right. This garden’s so close and with so much packed into it, I really should visit it more often.

4 Responses to “Blake Garden”

  1. May 30th, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    James says:

    Thanks for the tour and history. I really like the idea of a living, teaching garden. Studying herbarium sheets sounds ridiculously dull compared to studying the live versions. The Eckbo pergola works well as sculpture. It’d almost be a shame to hide it under plants. And speaking of sculpture, the crazy echiums look like some spectacular sculptures of their own. Nothing subtle about them!

  2. June 1st, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Andrew @potted says:

    It is a truly interesting garden.
    Probably made all the better by the evolution of design ideas over time.
    Thank you for sharing some really good photo’s and the information on this garden.

  3. June 10th, 2012 at 9:04 am

    DryStoneGarden » Blog Archive » Filoli says:

    […] of other bloggers have posted about it too. But I’d never in person. Coming right after a visit to Blake, I found there was sort of an interesting contrast. Like Blake, Filoli was set up with a formal […]

  4. December 19th, 2012 at 8:01 am

    DryStoneGarden » Blog Archive » Blake Garden Sketches says:

    […] went up to Blake Garden last week. I thought the recent storm might have made it messy or brought down branches from some […]

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