October 10, 2009
Blackie, a retired Calvary and rodeo cutting horse, stood in his Tiburon pasture for 28 years, until his death in 1966. During his retirement local children loved to feed him carrots and sugar cubes. The land became a mud hole in winter and a dust bowl in summer. Attempts to improve the site by the town went unfunded. Then local citizens, tired of waiting, formed Blackie's Brigade determined to make the site into a real pasture.
With volunteer labor, grants and private contributions this was done over a period of about three years. However, a fifth-of-an-acre strip of land lay between the town's bike path and the road to the Sanitary District, in which to plant a garden. Tiburon resident Ruth Lese fell in love with Blackie's Pasture on her daily walks. When she passed away her children provided the seed money for a garden in her memory. The town now needed someone to make it happen.
Enter Master Gardener Harvey Rogers of Belvedere. In 1995, he expressed an interest in working on the project and became its heart and soul. Engaging Marin Master Gardeners and other gardening enthusiasts, he organized them to plant, upgrade, irrigate and tend what you see today. Rogers wanted the garden to showcase native plants and water conservation. He looked for plants that were long-lived, provided color for many months, weren't thirsty, didn't need much fertilizer or pesticides - in a word, low maintenance.
Today more than 2,500 native plants - native to our Mediterranean climate - in a variety of colors and largely drought tolerant are the fruition of his vision. The garden is cared for by volunteers, with 80 percent of the labor donated by Marin Master Gardeners and 20 percent by others. It is now funded by the town of Tiburon, the city of Belvedere, the Belvedere Community Foundation and the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation.
Rogers' interest in gardens started when he was a teenager living in San Francisco. With very little land around the family home he built a large redwood box, put it up on sawhorses in the little back patio and raised ornamentals and vegetables. He just liked making things grow.
Now in his 80s, he still has plenty of energy and interest to make things grow in Blackie's garden and his own gardens in Belvedere and Tahoe. He continues to work on his community masterpiece, finding and adding new plants that are colorful, drought-tolerant and, whenever possible, California natives. As a former member of Blackie's Brigade said, "It just wouldn't have happened without Harvey."
Rogers lists four advantages of native plants. Besides being drought- and deer-resistant many have shallow roots that work well in rocky soil. Natives don't need to be drab. They can be very colorful with hues of blue, white, yellow, red, orange and lime green.
Recently a new display case was installed at the entrance of the garden, which will be changed seasonally to identify plants and give gardening tips.
Here are just a few of the plants blooming now through November and even into December:
- Cape plumbago (Plumbago capensis) is an easy care, profusely blooming shrub with blue flowers that attract butterflies.
- Cedros Island verbena, Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina,' a Baja California native, is a 3-foot-high mound of lilac blooms that needs little to moderate water.
- Galvezia speciosa, a 3-to 4-foot tall California native shrub with scarlet flowers, needs no irrigation after the first winter.
- Punica granatum is a dwarf pomegranate to 3 feet with red flowers and yellow leaves in autumn.
- Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips' is drought-tolerant, bearing white blooms with red tips.
- Potato vine, Solanum jasminoides, produces its dark blue blooms most of the year. In this garden it has been trained into a small tree.
This September the Calamintha nepeta and the red buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens) were teeming with bees and butterflies.
Hundreds of people pass this garden every day as they walk the bike path with their dogs, their children, their friends and many stop to admire it and say thank you to Rogers and his volunteer gardeners.