Artist, instructor, volunteer and friend Charlie Kennard brings us an update on one of Marin Art and Garden Center’s unique places.
In this time of seclusion, many people seek a little relief in nature. Those who live close enough to Marin Art and Garden Center to walk or cycle to the center, are welcome to visit the Basketry Garden, adjacent to the Barn Theater. Nature’s gifts continue to unfold with spring sunshine and rain, and, under current restrictions, fewer than usual human sounds intrude. Neighborhood chainsaws, construction work and leaf-blowers are stilled.
Warblers and juncos flit among the coffeeberry bushes, while in nearby woodland, a jay and chattering acorn woodpeckers can be heard. Overhead, a red-tailed hawk cries, glides, and then dives behind the Redwood Amphitheater, not bothered today by crows.
If you search for the source of an insistent hum, you will come to two beehives behind a bamboo lattice fence. Spring is a time of frenetic activity, as each queen is laying as many as 1000 eggs each day, and the worker bees are building new comb for the larvae and for incoming nectar and pollen. The pollen is carried as a bright-colored lump on each back leg, and the bee waddles into the hive as though wearing heavy cargo pants.
If the bees lack space for the growing population, half the inhabitants will leave as a swarm that needs a new home. The swarm usually settles as a dense clump of bees hanging in a nearby tree or bush, while scouting bees search for a suitable nesting site. At this stage, the swarm can be shaken into an empty hive, where they will often stay.
Fresh growth covers the dark lacework of winter’s branches, and emerges from club-like trees where shoots for basket-weaving were cut in December. Nearly all the plants in this garden are traditionally used for basket-weaving by California Indians. Among the favored shrubs and trees are willows, creek dogwood, maple, redbud, sourberry, buckbrush, spruce, and bull pine. The spikes of a variety of fibrous marsh plants have emerged from water tubs sunk in the ground – where birds come to bathe and drink. Basket sedge is the most ubiquitous, grass-like, plant in this garden, and its pretty white and yellow catkins attract honeybees in April and May. It is the long, golden-colored rhizome of this plant that is so valued by Indian weavers of central California.
Low-growing yerba buena is now at its peak for gathering for a minty tea, as are the new, bright green fronds of Douglas-fir, that have a lemony flavor. Yerba buena can be found near the top of the right-hand side of the loop trail, and you may pick some where it encroaches on the path.
Look for the ten woven baskets, and woven fences placed throughout the garden. An open-weave basket near the gravel parking area was made of living black maul willow, a species that is only now breaking its buds. The other baskets, of cut shoots, go through a natural progression of ageing, decay, and eventual replacement. You can also visit a giant willow basket, 13 feet across and adorned with abalone shells, near the main parking lot.