Garden of Earthy Delights

Marcia Donahue - Berkeley, California

Summary: Marcia Donahue is a hybridizer, but not in the common horticultural sense, as she has successfully blended her two worlds – as an artist and as a gardener – to create an elaborate tapestry of colour, texture, and patterns in the backyard of her Berkeley, California home. As a horticultural thrill-seeker, her garden is a whimsical and fantastical one – that not only serves as her personal paradise, but also as her art medium as she believes that “gardening is kinetic sculpture, because it doesn’t hold still, it is always transforming itself”.
Garden Contact Information: Our Own Stuff Gallery Garden
3017 Wheeler Street
Berkley, California 94705

Email: thanks2flora@comcast.net

The Garden: "I believe that human beings belong in nature. We’re a part of nature, not outside it or above it. We belong here and our creations belong here as much as that plant over there. That’s what my garden has taught me. That nature and culture can co-exist. That not everything we add to the landscape is bad or destructive. It can be good if it’s done with intelligence and respect and sometimes even a little irreverence." - Marcia Donahue

For over the past twenty-five years Marcia Donahue has devoted her considerable energies and talents to creating her personal Eden located in the backyard of her Victorian home on Wheeler Street in South Berkley, California. It is a fusion of her art and nature. It is an Eden intensely private and personal, yet open to the public as the Own Stuff Gallery Garden. It is an Eden which transgresses the traditional and celebrates to obscure. It is a collage of the absurd, the renaissance, the psychedelic and the pure beauty of nature all combined in a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere.

Where the traditional lawn ought to be, ther is a glorious jungle of enormous and exotic trees, shrubs and plants of all descriptions. Along the side of the Victorian style house, a lush tunnel of acanthus, bamboo, fuschia and azara, under planted with bowling balls and silverware, leads the visitor to a redwood gate in the shape of two giant hands that swing open to welcome the visitor into the garden beyond.

Marcia’s creations are everywhere in the garden. Stone sculptures line the paths. Some are corved with words, others with faces. Recycled and found materials from bowling balls and drainpipes to sea shells and old crockery become are in the hands of this skilled and surprising woman.

The full range of human experience finds expression in this unique garden paradise. Grave stones, dragged back from the dump, make a pathway to the compost heap. On one stone Marcia has carved her own name, on the other the words YOUR NAME HERE. Along a shady path stands a carved stone figure, Santa Muerte The mistress of death stands opposite a full-bosomed Santa Vida, a celebration of life. Plants from around the world also play an important role in the garden such as the foru spiralled Italian cypresses which tower over the garden, the Solanum quiltoense (a tomato relative from Ecuador), The Cupressus kasmiriana from India, an Australian grass tree and her own creation based on the African "bottle tree" tradition, in which glass bottles are hung from the tips of tree branches.

Marcia’s approach to gardening is simple:
"I go for plants that call my name... that are so outrageously wonderful that life couldn’t go on without them. Then I try and place them in a place where they will be happy".

It is an approach which Marcia also loves to incorporate into her art as she marries nature, art and culture together for all of us to enjoy.

The Gardeners' Story: Artist and sculptor, Marcia Donahue has always enjoyed gardening, but it was not until she moved into her house on Wheeler Street, South Berkley in the late 1970s that she was given an opportunity to but her love into practice.

As a child, Marcia was very close to her mother, who was a gardener. Her parents grew vegetables to save money when their family of four children was young. Under her mother’s tutelage, Marcia learnt the names of plants and gained an awareness and appreciation of nature. Her time in the garden, however, became non-existent once she entered adulthood and began her pursuit of a career in the arts.

After attending school in Boston, where she specialized in textile art, Marcia moved back to California for graduate school, whith her husband Chris and her small daughter from an earlier marriage. Chris, a fledgling carpenter, found an old Victorian in desparate need of repair on Wheeler Street. It took Chris and Marcia years of hard work rebuilding, renovating and decorating the house and it was a mission they undertook together - except for the yard. That area became Marcia’s personal project, a project which she admits "took a little while to get going, but once (she) got going, it got (her)"*.

For eight years after buying the house, Marcia committed herself to her new found passion of gardening. Completely consumed, she found gainful employment working the the established landscape contractor, Jana Olsen. She divided time between her own garden, other people’s gardens and making her art.

Although landscape design proved to be a tremendously rewarding learning experience for Marcia, it had its frustrations. Not every client had the imagination to appreciate the beauty of building rubble as "local stone" in a landscape or the sense of humour to appreciate phallic ceramic bamboo, both examples of the kind of elements of Marcia and Jana liked to fuse into their designs.

At the same time, her personal life began to fall apart. Her mother was dying and her marriage was disintegrating. Terrified of losing the snctuary and inspiration of her garden, she took a financial risk and borrowed money to buy her husband out. It was a sad and difficult time for Marcia, but the garden kept her sane and focused.

Marcia, like every emerging artist, face the challenge of finding an independent voice, of identifying the vision she wanted to share with the world and determining the medium she would use to express herself. With her re-discovery of the world of plants, she found her artistic inspiration in her own backyard and now excels in demonstrating the integration of art and nature.

According to Marcia, nature is one of her most powerful inspirations as an artist, and her art and her gardening hve now fused into a single discipline.

"When I was starting out as a studio artist the sculpture I was making were indoor things, soft materials: wood, leather, paper, cloth. But after i started gardening I started carving redwood, and later on stone came into the picture... and concrete a little bit. Later yet, ceramics-- I made all the ceramic bamboos out there in the garden. Everything I do in the studio is formed and coloured by my experiences in the garden. I’m making things for the garden and things about the garden."

The result is Our Own Stuff Gallery Garden. Created by Marcia and Mark Bulwinkle in the early 1990s, the concept of the garden is based on the principle set by some of the artists in New York City who have salons in their own personal studios. Instead of having gallery shows as per usual in the art world in order to showcase their work, they wanted, according to Marcia, to show their work "in a comfortable, non-formal, non-threatening, environment at home and invite whomever was interested to come and see what (they) were doing".* Open every Sunday afternoon, the Fallery Garden is a place where garden lovers encounter art lovers, all visiting with the interest of seeing something of the unusual.

Marcia’s love for the extraordinary has also lead her to become one of the founding members of the Hortisexuals, a most unusual "garden club" formed during the late 1980s by a gang of Bay Area horticultural fanatics whose driving passion is plants. United by their mutual admiration of the original and their disdain of the dull, the group now consists of members across North America who seek out unusual nurseries and gardens, looking for rare and peculiar plants and dishing the dirt about other people’s horticultural choices.

Today Marcia’s artwork can be found in many important private and public collections, including Brooklyn Park in Portland Oregon, Chinatown Park in San Francisco, and the prestigious Chanticleer Pleasure Garden in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Most recently she has completed a giant stone head for a children’s garden located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.

*www.berkleydailyplanet.com/rediscover.cfm?archiveDate=06-10-03

Link:
Behind the Scenes: Executive Producer: Merit Jensen Carr
Producer: Merit Jensen Carr
Director: Gwynne Basen
Writer: Gwynne Basen
Narration Writer: Gwynne Basen
Narrator: Bonnie Dickie
Director of Photography: Barry Lank CSC
Still Photography: Richard Whittaker
Editor: Brad Caslor
Composer: Michael Plowman

Date: 2004
Length: 22 minutes

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