Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2004
Regional Report

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This 12-foot-tall female figure, gleaming white with the serene smile of a Buddha, surprises visitors to Our Own Stuff Garden Gallery in Berkeley.

An Enchanted Garden

I recently visited an incredible garden in Berkeley, and I want to share it with you. Marcia Donahue and her partner, artist Mark Bullwinkle, have an open house every Sunday afternoon at their home. You realize this place is something special when you first drive up to the curb. The old craftsman-style house is tucked back from the street in a nest of foliage. It's almost like a Halloween fantasy, with tall pillars of stacked glass globes planted among the greenery, and strange African masks staring up at you from the ground cover.

A Blend of Art and Plants
As you enter the side yard, you definitely know that something weird is ahead. Dozens of colored bowling balls are nestled like dinosaur eggs among the luxurious stand of golden bamboo. Mark Bullwinkle's metal sculptures peek out from behind clumps of ornamental grasses and appear to fly high above trees. Marcia's ceramic bamboo totems guide you as you follow the path beside the house. Everywhere you look, there is a delight.

Once you leave the side yard and enter the main garden, a small open space contains spiraling pillars of cedar that lead your gaze upward to a dead tree that has become the support for 20 to 30, blue glass bottles that catch and reflect light. I have no idea how they got them up there.

This is not a restful garden by any means. It is an adventure in art and exploration. The small, Berkeley backyard is crammed with plants, mostly bamboos, and the winding path leads you through a journey of discovery. Each turn in the path reveals a secret place to sit, a stairway to nowhere, or a pond so overgrown with duckweed that it looks as if you could walk across it. Living comfortably beside the velvety green pond is a tiny patch of carnivorous pitcher plants. Ceramic slugs slither in formation along a smooth boulder. They seem to be paying homage to an urn filled with 15-foot-tall, ceramic, gilded bamboo stems. On closer inspection, a chicken face peeks out from the mouth of the urn.

Twists and turns in the path wind you through a maze of specimen plants and fantasy art. Tiger bamboo, puya, and vigorous vines grow together to create the urban jungle paradise. Strings of huge, multicolored, terra-cotta beads hang from the branches -- black and white, orange, green; it's an artistic overload of the senses. Every twisted branch, each fragrant blossom, every shiny leaf is part of the design. Even the stepping stones have faces or designs or strange, otherworldly messages.

Delivered once again from the circular path to the open area near the back door, you can either head toward the other side yard on the north end of the house, or go inside to discover the amazing art within. I chose to do both. The side yard was amazingly calm, with only a few magnificent, dwarf, fernleaf bamboos to accentuate the earth-colored ceramic sculptures of beads and totems. Standing in full sunlight and revealed only by taking the last turn toward the street, was a 12-foot-tall, female figure, gleaming white with the serene smile of a Buddha. I was enchanted and had to stop there for what seemed like an eternity to digest what I had just experienced.

Our Own Stuff Garden Gallery is located at 3017 Wheeler Street in Berkeley, CA, 94705, (510) 540-8544.

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