In the Kensington hills, four miles north of campus, the University of Californias Blake Garden is a 10.6-acre public garden and a teaching facility for Berkeleys Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. The garden, with its stunning Bay Area views, was created starting in the early 1920s by Anita Blake and her sister, Mabel Symmes, one of the departments first students. Blake and her husband, Anson, owned and lived on the property but deeded it to UC in 1957. A womens dorm for a short time, the Blakes former residence, Blake House, became the UC presidents house from 1968 to 2007.
Blake Garden, with more than 1,200 plant species, always has been arranged in sections that reflect the propertys topography and microclimates. These areas include the Redwood Canyon, the Pink and Yellow Gardens, the Hollow and the Mediterranean Garden. The gardens historical roots can be found throughout the garden. In the Redwood Canyon, for example, the towering, drought-tolerant Canary Island pines were seeds planted almost 100 years ago by sisters Blake and Symmes.
But the garden also is a place of change. Without a historic mandate to preserve it in a particular style, Berkeley students and faculty from many disciplines use it as an active lab, testing out new ideas. Recent projects have included restoration of a wetland where birds and frogs now thrive, slope stabilization using reclaimed coffee bean bags, and the construction of a long tunnel for kids that was woven from old timber bamboo recycled from the garden.
Berkeley students study landscape design, plant identification, geological engineering, environmental planning and other topics at the garden. Work-study and volunteer jobs are available year-round for tasks like propagation, pruning and composting. Students from other Bay Area schools, including Albany High School and Diablo Valley College, also come to Blake Garden as part of their curriculum.
On a recent December morning, after heavy rains, pineapple sage, king protea and love-lies-bleeding were among the colorful flowers in bloom, the cutting garden was being weeded, and materials for handmade holiday wreaths sold to visitors awaited spare moments from the busy Blake Garden staff.