The Big Sur Hidden Garden Tours opens up a world of green and flowering delights.
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Photo: Heaven Meets Earth-Visit Big Sur''s magical gardens this Saturday.
Imagine a place where plants speak in words, where the ocean meets the land dancing through the white of the sea foam, moving to the sound of wind blowing through seashells. This place exists not only in our imaginations, but in the nooks and crannies of Big Sur. This Saturday, some of those hidden corners will be on view at the fourth annual Hidden Gardens Tour, a fundraiser for the Big Sur Arts Initiative.
In the winter of ''98, Big Sur was cut off from the rest of the county when El Niño storms washed away parts of Highway One. The road closure, which lasted for months, created serious problems for this small community. Parents and volunteers worked hard to make sure their children received schooling during the closure. A key part of that effort was the Big Sur Arts Initiative [BSAI], created, in large part, by resident Erin Gafill to provide arts, science and humanities programs for Big Sur children and their families. The organization continued to function even after the road re-opened, and has since guided many local children and their families to greater artistic and academic expression.
The Initiative has helped children at Big Sur''s Captain Cooper School build their own garden. Each week BSAI member Merrie Potter comes to the school to show the children the ropes of gardening, teaching them to understand how the ecosystem works. The garden is built to a small scale, so taking care of it doesn''t seem overwhelming to the elementary school students.
Last week Gafill took me on a personal tour down the man-made wooden steps that lead into this enchanted garden, a wonderland for children.
Everything was kid-sized, from wheelbarrows to benches. A table set for afternoon tea awaited visitors in one corner. Plants crawled up the fences, their flowers poking through to join in the festivities.
The "touch and smell" gardens caught my eye. I patted the soft leaves of the lamb''s ear plant and smelled the jasmine. As part of one school project, students tended butterly cocoons and let them free in the garden when they hatched. To their surprise, the butterflies continue to come back to the specific section of the garden that was created for them with budlea and wallflower plants.
The butterflies aren''t the only inhabitants of this magical place. Endangered red-legged frogs hop through the garden, taking the sun in a tank and an old bathtub filled with water and plants.
The children''s garden allows kids to experience the link between human ecology and the natural world. They have learned how to put their waste to use. Excess food and biodegradable items are put into a covered heap called the worm bin, where worms, kindly donated to the school, break down the waste and turn it into fresh soil that can be used to refurbish the garden.
After my visit to the Cooper School, I continued south past Ventana and up a hill to the home of Tricia and Tony Perault, whose garden will be on Saturday''s tour. I walked through it and took note of the many species of plants that are growing in this Northern California habitat. Looking past the greenery, I thought the sky seemed to look awkward. It wasn''t until I had made it to the edge of the cliff that I realized I was not looking at the sky, but the ocean.
As we walked along the cliffside path, Tricia named every plant. One was a pineapple-flavored plant, but it''s not for eating, just smelling. As if it were a scratch-and-sniff sticker, I rubbed my fingers along the leaves and put them up to my nose. I was reassured that leafy plants can smell as fruity as Bonne Bell lip gloss.
On the porch I was greeted by a cat who wanted to get to know me. I bent down to pet it and asked its name. Tricia responded with a laugh, "I don''t know, my daughter changes it every week."
My visit with the Peraults confirmed for me that Big Sur''s true beauty lies off the main road. Big Sur is no 17 Mile Drive. Visitors have to get out of their cars to breathe the air and feel the soft breeze on their faces. This is a place to be explored from the cliff tops, looking down to the ocean and the sand that is filled with hidden treasures of its own.
The flowers that line the highway have tiny faces. If you bend down far enough, they might tell you tales of others who leaned in on other visits.
The legends of Big Sur are tangled up in the trees and engraved in the tile and rock mosaics scattered through its many gardens. It''s a story that can never truly be told through the lens of a camera or the eyes of another. One must see it to believe.