by TERRY KRAMER
THE VETERANS' MEMORIAL GARDEN in the city of Arcata parking lot at Eighth and F Streets may receive scant notice from residents who rush through town on their way to the bank, post office or farmers' market. Perhaps you've hastily passed by the two flower beds and patch of green grass studded with a huge boulder embedded with a faded plaque commemorating veterans of Korea and Vietnam wars.
Numerous yellow buttercups like so many troops on a battlefield gather around the massive stone. But thanks to the volunteered efforts of botanist/educator Rose Madrone (in above photo at left) and Arcata gardener Geraldine Goldberg (in above photo at right) , both locals and tourists may stop and discover the treasures that lie in this city garden, as well as others in the heart of town. Together they have completed a free self-guided tour of the plants and gardens of Arcata titled a Botanical Walkabout. Saturday, June 9, at 1 p.m., there will be a grand opening of the tour at the Veterans' Memorial garden. After the ribbon cutting ceremony there will be a self-guided group tour that will end at Los Bagels for a reception of music and refreshments.
Madrone, who spearheaded the project, got the idea 12 years ago while on a trip in Austria where she went on a tour of the town of Hinterstöder medicinal gardens. "It was a really beautiful idea and since then I've been looking for the perfect place to start doing something like this," she explained. "Arcata was the place to create the tour because of the green consciousness here. We care about the environment. We care about education and there are great gardeners here," she added.
Offering tourists something fun to do was Madrone's goal, also. "The tourist population walks around town and says `We made it to Arcata. Now what do we do?' So this was something that seemed like a good idea for visiting tourists, residents, school kids and such," Madrone said.
The self-guided tour offers an informative brochure with a map of the downtown area, highlighting 20 sites where common and exceptional plants and trees may be viewed. A delightful, but subtle, feature found at many destinations is numbered signs that correspond to the brochure. Made by the Arcata High School metal shop each sign is a rusted, weathered leaf carved out of sheet metal.
Each site features a special plant or environmental fact that is summarized in a concise paragraph. For example, the Veterans' Memorial Garden features santolina trimmed to form a knot garden. Knot gardens, the brochure reveals, originated during the 1600s in England and France and were made with fragrant herbs. Close inspection of the garden tended by volunteers from Plaza Design and Moonrise Herbs reveals lush stands of California poppies, nigela, lamb's ear and phlomis. Yarrow is home to spittle bugs and lady bugs while honeybees cling to pink heads of armeria.
Goldberg, a volunteer who tends the Veterans' Garden, believes that the project draws attention to important details in this small town. "This little square garden in a parking lot in downtown Arcata is dedicated to the vets and I feel honored to participate in it," she said. "I think we are saying to a lot of people `Hey, this is here. Come and enjoy it.'"
The tour, which takes a bit over an hour, offers an intimate view of the homes and yards of Arcata, something one would never get from running around in a car. It begins and ends at the Plaza where one may inspect the beds maintained by businesses and groups.
On this tour you will discover little garden treasures. The community garden behind the First Presbyterian Church has an 8-foot tall, 4-foot wide folk art fountain. Water spigots to irrigate the garden emerge from all sides of the three-tiered octagonal cement sculpture which is decorated with mosaics of coins, shattered pottery and broken tiles.
Behind weathered picket fences you will find little patches of lettuce and herbs. One quickly becomes aware of the variety of architectural styles of Arcata's homes from a beautiful Victorian mansion with a massive walnut tree that consumes much of the block to a quaint little cottage with a front yard crammed with cottage garden-style plants.
Goldberg has learned that the tour is an educational experience as well as entertaining. "I have to say that I've learned so much from this project. You turn to a page about beneficial insects and why plants have prickers and stuff like that. I've talked to so many people who have taken the walk already who have said they have learned so much. There are these wonderful little tidbits that we have included in the brochure that have been really important for people to learn," she said.
The bulk of the two-year project was volunteer hours from Madrone and Goldberg who had to seek funding for landscape and sign materials as well as the cost to print the brochures. "It was hard to start the project because it was hard to find funding," Madrone said. As a result they received $800 from the city of Arcata's Neighborhood Improvement Program and $1,000 from the city's Economic Development Committee.
While the tour seems like a completed project in itself, it is only phase one of several Madrone says is planned for the future. "We are already in conversation with local teachers at grade schools and junior highs to create a curriculum for utilizing this in the classroom. Then another idea is that it would be lovely to eventually put it on the web, because you could broaden the information. Right now we are limited by the amount of space in the size of the brochure.
"We would also like to make the project an available template where any other town anywhere could do something similar. It would be great if any place has this available to them because it is a way of doing joyous education for an important topic such as plants and how we relate to them." Madrone explained.
You can pick up brochures at many Plaza businesses like the Garden Gate, Plaza Design, Moonrise Herbs, Arcata Mainstreet, as well as Wildwood Music, Pacific Paradise. Arcata City Hall, the Natural History Museum and the Arcata Chamber of Commerce at the Welcome Center offer brochures, also.
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