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Growing Native

A botanical garden for Silver City showcases area native plants.

 

If you happened to be at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden last June, you may have noticed a woman who looked distinctly ethnic wearing faded Asic Gel sneakers and an equally bleached-out straw hat, with a brown-bag lunch peeping from her tote. That woman was I, and although I was dressed decidedly Gulag casual — or perhaps just Silver Citian — the inner me is quite particular about botanical gardens regardless of my appearance.

garden
A view from Virginia Street into the emerging
Silva Creek Botanical Garden.

Sited on a lake overlooking downtown, the Dallas Arboretum's 66 acres are carved from two family estates. The arboretum features their exclusive residences and gardens replete with ponds, curving brick pathways, stone balustrades and pedestals for sculpture.

Although the site is dramatic, the trees and shrubbery mature, the overall effect is over-groomed and under-capricious. Bedding plants tend toward humdrum annuals that surely produce an uneven ratio of toil to bling for the grounds crew — not to mention irrigation requirements.

In fact, the most memorable aspect of my arboretum visit was the abundance of brides in full matrimonial regalia posing for wedding portraits. On hand were photo stylists, some with battery-operated fans, moist towelettes, bottled water — even "Pachelbel's Canon" wafting from an iPhone.

With their sweeping trains arranged in curlicues on the emerald lawn, the gowned brides-to-be — radiantly white under the Texas sun — appeared like fantastic living Easter lilies. They were certainly the garden's most unique flowerings.

 

For the most part, botanical gardens have moved beyond providing a formal ambiance of tranquility among pretty flowers. Many feature herbariums with preserved plant specimens — a vital reference for plant identification and conservation. Older gardens like the prestigious Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis contain specimens collected centuries ago holding "priceless significance for botanical science."

garden
Charles Holmes and Betsy Kaido volunteer for a work party at the SCBG.
(All photos by Vivian Savitt.)

This grand botanical institution, and others like the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, support botanical research while also treating their member-patrons to living recreations of tropical rain forests, Japanese gardens, et al.

Such institutions are splendid, even otherworldly, in the monies they can muster for super shows, publications, educational programs, unique gift shop merchandise and onsite cafes. What I wouldn't give to view the New York Botanical Garden's re-creation of Frieda Kahlo's Mexican house and garden in an exhibition slated next year!

 

But what about Silver City? Well, soon we can look forward to the completion of Silva Creek Botanical Garden (SCBG) thanks to the Gila Native Plant Society and its president, Keller Suberkropp. Recently, the society received support totaling $25,000 from a PNM Power-Up grant and another from the Wetterau Family Fund.

Situated across from Virginia Street Park (see box), the garden is designed "to educate the population about native plants that grow in the area and their role in the landscape," Suberkropp says.

He continues: "As we are experiencing lengthy droughts in New Mexico, it is increasingly important to use drought-tolerant native plants in home landscapes. Water-harvesting structures have been constructed in the garden to demonstrate the conservation of precipitation."

garden
A native species that grows at the SCBG: Angelita daisy. (Drawing by Denise Friedrick)

I remember watching the garden's original emergence eight years ago. Labor was provided by Aldo Leopold School students remunerated with Youth Conservation Corps funding. This was an effort to "educate students on gardening techniques."

Since then, I've witnessed the Silva Creek Botanical Garden's slow progress. Over time, however, many of the hardy native shrubs have matured — adding strong visual elements to the evolving parkscape. There has been plenty of time to recognize what plants do well.

Last month, with fresh funding in hand, volunteer gardeners under the Native Plant Society's aegis began participating in work parties — defining beds with stones, adding new soil and mulch, and getting the garden's central portion underway with raised beds to reduce water loss.

A new public area will be constructed — a small amphitheater serving as both meeting and classroom space. Two concrete pads for sculpture will be placed in the park. Another artistic addition will be metal panels surrounding the base of the historic (1906) railroad water tower featuring Mimbres-style art cut out of the metal. Information on topics such as native plants, water conservation and park activities will be displayed on a new kiosk.

Key players in helping to complete the effort include Charles Holmes, volunteer director, a retired history professor who also taught computer science to General Electric executives in the technology's early years, and Elroy Limmer, garden committee chair, an arborist and retired head of the parks department in Peoria, Ill. Contact either of them if you would like to volunteer at SCBG: Charles Holmes, 388-1371; Elroy Limmer, 538-5513.

 

Silva Creek Stroll

 

Take a walk to the Silva Creek Botanical Garden: Friends and I enjoy this "destination" walk to the SCBG, which offers highlights of small-town life.

Circumvent the dog park adjacent to 12th Street and West Avenue, then take Virginia Street across Hwy. 180 to the garden's entry opposite Virginia Street Park.

After viewing the garden, the return route takes you over the stunning iron bridge spanning Silva Creek at the rear of SCBG (which must offer a pleasant amusement for neighborhood children attending Jose Barrios Elementary School) and the side of the historic stone Waterworks Building on Cottage San Road. Continue walking in front of the school, crossing Hwy. 180 again at the Skate Park. A narrow pathway to the right of the Skate Park brings you to the back of Penny Park with its colorful tile murals and a convenient restroom stop if needed.

At this point, you can continue south behind Hidalgo Medical Services to Pope Street. Turn right when you reach Pope, where you will quickly approach tiny Pope Street Park. Proceed thru the grassy park to the planted lavender median on 10th Street.

From there, you can continue up 10th Street to the WNMU campus.

 

 

 

Vivian Savitt gardens at Ditch Cottage in Silver City.

 







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