There’s a secret garden in the Berkeley Hills

Significant up in the Berkeley Hills lies Blake Backyard garden, an oasis of blossoming lilies and burbling water that’s made use of for experimental exploration. Never ever listened to of it? That wouldn’t be uncommon, as it’s about the closest issue to a mystery garden you are going to discover in the Internet age.

Blake, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this yr, is operated by the College of California program and is usually only open up weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – somewhat inconvenient for working folks. On any offered afternoon, you may well see a mom and child picnicking beneath the trees, a neighborhood electrical power-going for walks up the steep paths, a team gardener and no just one else. It is value carving out time to be a part of this sparse group, although, as the back garden and its architecture are fantastically made and carry a intriguing heritage.

The Blakes were being a properly-to-do family that resided in Berkeley but got eminent-domained off the land in the 1920s to make way for Memorial Stadium. Avid horticulturalists, they persuaded the university to dig up their aged backyard garden and shift it to their new dwelling in Kensington, a distant plot with rocky outcrops and an eagle’s-nest see of the Bay. It wasn’t these a large undertaking, only involving the physical transport of 34 cartloads of plants.

The redwood canyon at Blake Back garden has 100-12 months-old trees that were brought in youthful from St. Helena. (John Metcalfe/Bay Place News Group)

There the loved ones tapped architect Walter Bliss – who contributed to the style and design of the existing-day American Conservatory Theater and Southern Pacific Setting up in San Francisco – to site a manor that would block the ocean temperature from their vegetation. Mabel Symmes, groundbreaking scholar of what now is UC Berkeley’s Division of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Setting up, helped make a backyard garden style that highlighted microclimates and the sharply shifting topography. (There’s a key path that is ADA-compliant, but several trails are slim, winding and steep.)

The Blakes at some point deeded the residence to the college, which in the 1960s took about the garden and a home that, at this point, required some get the job done. “The initially matter they did was to make it a graduate women’s dormitory. That just did not perform out,” says back garden supervisor Meghan Ray. “It was way too much from campus and really operate down and frightening at night time. I assume the initial 12 months, they experienced 10 to 12 ladies signal up, and the next calendar year they experienced zero.”

The college then decided to make it into the formal home for presidents of the College of California procedure. The to start with one particular moved in throughout the 1960s and for years, the place was utilised for functions and features. “Then they did a seismic security inspection and learned really serious troubles, as you would possibly anticipate in a 1922 residence that is crafted on the Hayward Fault in an historic landslide region with lots of underground springs,” claims Ray. The residence went vacant in 2008, and continues to be in lookup of funds to retrofit it for a new use.

The deceptive mirror bridge leads to a wall protecting the Carmelite Monastery next door.
The deceptive mirror bridge qualified prospects to a wall shielding the Carmelite Monastery future doorway. (John Metcalfe/Bay Spot Information Team)

But there’s continue to the 10.5-acre yard for the community to get pleasure from. Spring is a popular time, with its explosion of magnolias and a cottage-model back garden with poppies and sweet peas and fox gloves. In the early summer season a person could possibly capture the past of the roses and shaded dells with tangerine and lavender-hued lilies. There is an enchanting redwood canyon that the Blakes grew from youthful trees introduced in from St. Helena in Napa County. Flitting all over the place are monarch butterflies – they feed on the nearby milkweed and have their own “Caterpillar City” marked with a sign, “Squirming in Progress.”

A official backyard garden influenced by Italian villas graces the front of the shuttered household, with a reflecting pool stocked with drifting koi. A daylighted tributary of Cerrito Creek adds to the water features. For youngsters, there’s an outsized chess set and a “nature zone” to construct primitive buildings from branches and leaves.

“There are also a few of tunnels that youngsters like a large amount – you can operate by way of a blackberry tunnel,” states Ray. “I can tell I’m not a child for the reason that they are like, ‘Can we go all over again?’ And I’m like, ‘Sure, go! I’ll wait around listed here.’”

A person of the garden’s concealed treasures is located on a stone bridge major specifically into a wall, past which is a Carmelite Monastery. “Carmelite sisters are cloistered in silence, so they essential a totally walled house,” explains Ray. (Google overview of the monastery: “Feels like Middle Ages! Amazing!”)

“My coworker thought, ‘That’s humorous. It’s one particular of our most attractive architectural capabilities and it is a bridge into a wall?’ So he place in a major mirror,” Ray claims. “People are like, ‘There’s a gap in the fence!’ But then they get above and see it is not. Puppies are incredibly amusing – they get thrilled – and minimal little ones.”

One of Blake Garden's many carefully manicured spaces.
Just one of Blake Garden’s many diligently manicured areas. (John Metcalfe/Bay Space News Team)