These blooms always look amazing. Bordered by oversize bugs, they're never bothered by pests. Instead, this endless bouquet sparkles for all visitors to see.
Bees and hummingbirds zip among terra-cotta flowers in the Nature's Gallery. Butterflies spread colorful wings, picking up a rainbow of floral hues. A curious corgi a mystery mutt peeks out over visitors' heads.
And if you stand in just the right place, this permanent flower patch reveals a (fun) secret.
Newly installed on the university's Garrod Drive, the Nature's Gallery a ceramic interpretation of Valley-wise plants and beneficial insects has become an instant icon for the UC Davis Arboretum.
"What people love about the tiles they're not just plants," said Katie Hetrick, the arboretum's director of marketing and promotions. "There's so much to see. It's such a beautiful landmark."
Added Margaret Kralovec, the arboretum's community outreach manager, "The gallery will become synonymous with the arboretum. It will become an icon for the university, like the water tower."
Patrons can discover the Nature's Gallery for themselves today. At its teaching nursery, the arboretum will host a special sale featuring many of the drought-tolerant plants celebrated in the mural's terra-cotta tiles.
Today, volunteers and special signs will help connect the mural with its inspiration. The tile subjects 76 plants and 54 insects were originally selected by students from the nearby Ruth Risdon Storer Valley-Wise Garden of native plants.
"You can see the mural, then discover mature specimens of those same plants in the garden," explained Suzanne Ullensvang, the arboretum's resource development manager. "You can't always envision what that little plant in a 4-inch pot will grow up to be, but here you can."
About 1,500 patrons are expected for today's sale. They'll find more than 17,000 plants, most propagated during spring and summer especially for the arboretum's two fall events.
"We'll have almost all of the (100) Arboretum All-Stars available," Kravolec said. "It's the largest selection in one place. A lot of people come just wanting the All-Stars."
Many of the All-Stars easy-care, drought-tolerant plants that thrive in Sacramento are featured in the gallery.
Originally displayed in Washington, D.C., the gallery is now permanently installed near the entrance to the Storer garden, thanks to more than $140,000 in donations. Many donors have their names listed on green tile leaves and butterflies, installed in the gallery's court.
As part of the arboretum's 75th anniversary celebration, the gallery was dedicated in June. Its formal name: the Nature's Gallery Court GATEway Garden. Led by Diane Ullman and Donna Billick, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members helped hand-craft the tiles.
The gallery project grew out of the UC Davis Art- Science Fusion Program, created by Ullman, an entomology professor, and Billick, an artist. With scores of students crafting the individual pieces, the tiles were made in 2007 to represent California during a national show at the U.S. Botanic Garden on the grounds of the nation's Capitol.
In 2008, the gallery got its only previous local display a stop at the State Fair as part of the university's Centennial Pavilion.
Since then, the arboretum's leaders and volunteers had worked hard to find a fitting showcase for this one-of-a-kind garden art. The gallery stands about 9 feet tall and stretches more than 20 feet across.
Landscape architect Ron Lutsko, a UC Davis alumnus, designed the courtyard, which is planted with several of the drought-tolerant perennials featured in the tiles. The small plaza can be used by the community for special occasions such as weddings as well as a place for students to relax or study every day.
"We have this amazing monument now," Hetrick said. "We've been talking about it a long time, but now people can come and enjoy it."
The gallery already has a steady stream of daily visitors.
"People definitely stop and stare," Ullensvang said. "Then, they go touch. People love to feel the tiles. It's very meaningful to them."
Besides adding year-round beauty to the campus, the gallery also teaches. It's a three-dimensional primer on drought-tolerant plants ranging from the California poppy to lipstick red penstemons that will thrive in the Sacramento Valley.
It's also a great backdrop for on-campus snapshots.
"It's become a favorite spot for local prom photos," Hetrick said.
Said Kravolec, "It's a rare day when somebody isn't out here with a camera."
Everybody has a favorite flower in the colorful mix the flaming red-hot poker, the graceful flamingo rose, the delicate daisies. But the tile that gets the most discussion features a dog with a rose.
"The student artist who made that tile always included a dog in their work," Ullensvang said. "And that little corgi looks like (Queen Elizabeth's) dog. It always gets noticed."
Not so immediately obvious is the gallery's secret: It has an echo.
"Stand right in the middle and you find the sweet spot," Ullensvang said. "Who knew it would have a great echo? It's really fun."
ARBORETUM PLANT SALE
What: Fall plant sale showcasing the Nature's Gallery Court selections
Where: Arboretum Teaching Nursery, Garrod Drive, UC Davis
When: 9-11 a.m. today for members (join at the door and get a 10 percent plant discount); public sale, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. today
Details: arboretum.ucdavis.edu, (530) 752-4880
This sale features more than 70 plants that inspired the color tilework of the new Nature's Gallery Court, installed near the nursery. See the court and mature plants in nearby demonstration beds and the arboretum's Ruth Risdon Storer garden.
Next sale: Oct. 14