Blake Garden

In North Berkeley, tucked off Arlington Avenue across from the library, is a street called Rincon Road. If you turn onto it, after a few hundred yards you come upon an imposing gate, behind which is the Blake Garden created in the twenties by the wife of then UC President Anson Blake and Mabel Symmes, a landscape architecture student. Today it’s run by a conservancy and linked with the landscape architecture school at UC.

The garden is a wonderful mix of the formal–pillars, reflecting pool, and the whimsical (in the album below). On any non-holiday weekday, the gate opens at 8 am, and you can wander the woodland or grassy paths, look at the reflecting pool and the gardens, and see one of the ongoing projects the students create. It’s a wonderful amble any time of year, and right now there are some particularly entrancing projects to look at–the vegetable garden with its pole-bean teepee, a tule-grass canoe (where is baby Moses?), a sinuous reed tunnel for crawling through, a bamboo culvert to a water tank:

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And it occurs to me that Stanley Kunitz, a former poet laureate of the US who lived almost to his 100th birthday, was also famous for his garden. He celebrated it in a book published about five years ago, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden.  My favorite poem of his, though, is about his father’s suicide and its impact on his life. I first heard this recited by Marie Howe:

The Portrait

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

Stanley Kunitz

You can hear Stanley read it himself, if you like.

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