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New gateway garden links campus, Davis

People tour the new UC Davis Arboretum GATEway Garden on Sunday during a dedication ceremony and family festival.
People tour the new UC Davis Arboretum GATEway Garden on Sunday during a dedication ceremony and family festival. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

This public garden gives new meaning to shovel-ready projects.

More than 400 recycled shovels, donated by local gardeners, create the entrance to the new UC Davis Arboretum GATEway Garden, a natural bridge between the university and downtown Davis.

Surrounded by flowing sedges and other native grasses, the rust-hued arch of reclaimed metal also symbolizes the garden’s spirit – finding new perspectives that link the college and its community with its particular time and place.

Spread over 1.5 acres, this spot was a former no man’s land, a barren strip behind the Davis Commons shopping center on the eastern edge of campus. Now, it blossoms with potential while maintaining a distinctly Davis sustainable vibe.

“This garden started as a leftover space,” said Emily Griswold, director of the campus’s GATEway projects. “Now, it opens up the arboretum to visitors from the community and welcomes them in.”

Sunday, the GATEway Garden welcomed the community with a dedication ceremony and family festival. GATEway stands for “Gardens, Arts and The Environment,” all elements in this collaboration. The garden is open to the public daily from dawn to dusk.

Created by artist Chris Fennell and funded by the city’s public arts program, the shovel sculpture has become an instant icon for the city-arboretum connection, Griswold said.

“Every shovel was recycled out of garages and basements across Yolo County,” she said. “But that’s not all. This whole garden is as sustainable as you can get.”

Hefty wooden benches came from urban trees that had died or fell on campus and had to be removed. That redwood, cedar and walnut was milled on site to create seating areas for outdoor classrooms and gallery spaces. More reclaimed wood became a boardwalk across a shallow swale. Nearby shade structures used recycled steel.

To conserve water, the garden simulates the natural watershed, Griswold said. All pavement on paths and parking spaces is permeable so stormwater will recharge the soil instead of flowing away.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Davis Mayor Dan Wolk said of the transformation. “It highlights the partnership between the university and the community. It illustrates how important the arboretum is to the city. It forms a true gateway from the arboretum into our downtown.”

During California’s prolonged drought, this landscape also shows what can be done with less water, he added.

“This is all low water (use),” Wolk said. “During times of drought, when people especially are interested in learning (about these plants), this is a fine example of plants that not only need less water but look beautiful, too.”

This garden didn’t blossom overnight. Planning started in 2010. Funds came from a wide range of sources, principally a state grant.

In fall 2013, volunteers transplanted more than 25,000 perennials and grasses into the garden, which is anchored by several large oaks. Well established despite water cutbacks, those plants now thrive on twice-monthly irrigation – or less.

“Look around,” said Warren Roberts, the arboretum’s superintendent emeritus. “All these plants are native, not just to California, but to Yolo County. They grow naturally in the Putah Creek watershed and they look spectacular. I love the purple needlegrass, our official state grass.”

Garden designer Laura Jerrard of Lutsko Associates Landscape was pleased by the garden’s progress. Her company created the landscape layout.

“We try to use native plants in whatever project we’re working on,” Jerrard said. “But this is one of the most beautiful examples of what you can do.”

Using only Yolo native plants drives home the sense of place, Griswold said. “In the Central Valley, most of our landscapes are either agricultural or urban. This garden is about truly local plants for our region.”

“What this garden does better than any other is it tells you about the place where you’re at,” added arboretum horticulturist Stacey Parker. “No other garden has this same collection. These plants have been growing here for thousands of years; they’re meant to grow here. That’s really powerful to see.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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