Friday, April 19, 2013

Oh Marcia, Marcia, Marcia...

I've certainly heard of the name, but never really thought it would be a person I'd ever get to know or meet. Ken Druse persuaded and convinced me that this was a garden worth visiting since I was in the Berkeley area. Having seen some of her artwork in private gardens here in Puget Sound and also in Portland, the name Marcia Donahue seems to come up again and again and I thought, "I better see what the fuss is about."  Also, I got the feeling that I Ken might be mighty upset with me if I didn't meet her.


So hauled ass on a taxi from the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden to arrive at a home that almost reminded me of Sean Hogan's home in Portland. Densely planted with some really cool plants, I knew I was in for a treat and with 10 minutes to spare, I could at least say "hello" and introduce myself.

But then:

I was a bit bummed, but I did peak around the front and admired what I could see. At every corner, not only did you see her remarkable plant palette, but the artwork was whimsical, unique, and you can see the incredible attention to detail and inspiration from the wonderful plants she's surrounded herself with integrated into her sculptures and compositions. Even this note attached to what looks like bamboo, but uniquely isn't, was very eye-catching and blended with the dense plantings so well.





I left her a note and my card and walked back to the BART station to head back to Fremont, where I was staying. I started getting upset at myself again for not having planned ahead, yada yada yada, but then it wasn't really part of the plan to see her garden. The fact was, I DID see Marcia Donahue's garden, but I just didn't get to meet her. I told myself that I'd make the effort the next time I came down to the Bay Area.

As I waited for a ride from the station, I get a phone call and IT WAS MARCIA DONAHUE!!!   She had apologized for not having the garden open as she was out in Sonoma camping with her family and that she did hear from Ken Druse about my coming to visit and she had offered to show me her garden if I was free the next day. So I made it happen and I was back on the BART back to Berkeley to meet the infamous MD!


Walking through her jungle of a garden with art was really quite something. I'm normally not a fan of garden art, but somehow, it all works together in its own special way. I think it's because of her ability to capture the essence of a plant part whether it be the culms of a bamboo, the bracts of a Disporum or the spathe of an Arisaema, she understands these elements internally and expresses them in a very clever and sophisticated manner that's tasteful and can truly be appreciated by a plant geek such as myself.

The muscularity of this simple sculpture resembles a crape myrtle, but with the segments of bamboo and the pale pink and grays pick up the coloration of the young Begonia foliage.








One gangly plant caught my attention which lead to a phone call and a ride in her car to a nearby nursery that a colleague of mine actually recommended I visit as well!!!!!!

She insisted that I grow this fabulous member of the carrot family, Mathiasella bupleuroides:


So she whisked me down just a few blocks to The Dry Garden and introduced me to Richard Ward. The nursery itself was small, but the offerings absolutely mouthwatering! I kept reminding myself that I was only after one plant and it had to be a size I could pack in my suitcase. 


Of course, that all changed when Richard pointed out a most striking variegated Bromeliad that we all just gawked that for a moment and then I simply couldn't resist it.


This is Aechmea 'Aztec Gold'. Totally not hardy, but I convinced myself that it's too freakin' aw

So awesome that even Richard wanted to take a photo!

Two other plant purchases later, including my new baby Mathiasella and a Pachystegia insignis I've been lusting after since ours at work died a few years ago, we went back to Marcia's where I continued my tour and admiration of her remarkable and interesting garden. 

The chickens were a lovely surprise and each them were a work of art!





Mulching with bowling balls!

Not gonna lie, I want these!!

I can't tell you how honored I was to meet Marcia and see this remarkable garden. She is passionate about her work and so incredibly generous with the wonderful gifts she has as not only as an artist, but as a person as well. My thanks to Ken Druse for making the introduction. 

Until we meet again, Ms. Donahue:


I found this little video on YouTube of Marcia sharing her work at a local gallery:


  1. What an absolutely fantastic garden! Thanks so much for taking us along.

  2. So you got to visit Marcia Donahue's garden and take a break in between to visit a great nursery? Heaven! I am no great lover of garden art either (isn't that what the plants are for?) but a lot of Marcia's work is pretty darn fabulous.

    (I'd been checking out if it was possible to visit the Dry Garden via public transport when I'm in the Bay Area for the GB Fling, thanks for the chance to see it really is worth the effort!)

  3. Oh, totally possible!! Within walking distance from the BART!!! Same with Marcia's garden.

  4. Loved your photo with the chicken!!!

  5. Great garden, really enjoyed this post. Nice to see that the Dry Garden is still going strong. I prefer to visit in my car so that I can fill it up.

  6. I think I need Mathiasella b. WOW!! Stunning garden and sculpture too!