In bloom all year | March 25, 2011 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - March 25, 2011

In bloom all year

Pause awhile to partake in the pleasures of the Sensory Garden

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

What a difference a good gardener makes. And the Pleasanton Sensory Garden has an entire garden club to help it flourish and stay in bloom all year.

"Each plant was designed to appeal to at least one of five senses," said Daniel McCright, who organizes the Livermore Amador Valley Garden Club volunteers.

The garden always has plants that look delightful, smell wonderful, and are pleasing to touch. Close your eyes and enjoy the sounds of a breeze riffling through the leaves or perhaps some bees doing their pollination dance. The sense of taste is there also, in the herbs and other plants used in cooking.

"The club worked with the city of Pleasanton when they started the Sensory Garden 18 years ago," McCright said recently at the garden where a bevy of garden enthusiasts worked in the winter sun. "We do the design, and they haul the debris.

"We're there monthly, pulling weeds, pruning -- always renovating, replanting plants. We always have new plants. Our members get pretty enthusiastic," he continued. "We have lots of herbs -- for texture, aroma and taste."

Some of the garden is in waist-high planters for those who have trouble bending down. Since the garden is viewed close up, they choose plants with interesting forms, foliage, flowers and berries.

"We want more of the cascading plants -- our expectations are high,"

McCright said. "It's designed to be wheelchair accessible."

Indentations allow wheelchairs to pull in and be surrounded on three sides by the beds for the full sensory sensation.

There is a reason the garden was installed in Centennial Park next to the Senior Center, McCright said, as a woman with a walker made her way from Ridge View Commons to the center. She called out a greeting to the volunteers, who responded with a wave of their garden gloves.

The Sensory Garden remains an exercise in trial and error.

"We want non-fussy plants," McCright said, that can get by with just the monthly upkeep. "Gardening is at its best when it is experimental."

The gardeners aim for a variety of heights and plant categories. Some attract butterflies. There are annuals for the cool season and for the warm season, and species overlap to bloom at subsequent times.

"It's a gardening trick, to extend the bloom period," McCright said.

The ground near the faucet is referred to as the boggy area, where plants thrive that do well with a lot of water. Day lilies were in bloom and a dogwood shrub was beginning to bud.

"It has red stems all winter long," McCright explained.

Parts of the garden receive irrigation during the dry months while others receive none. Plants such as the California native Manzanita are drought-resistant.

"We've observed where water falls and where it doesn't," McCright noted.

The Sensory Garden is also a place for Pleasanton residents to get ideas for their own yards.

"Everything here will be available and it's an indication of what thrives in our soil," McCright said.

One exception is the bulbinella -- a bright yellow plant from South Africa -- that was in full bloom. McCright said it is rarely for sale at nurseries in this area, and club member Betty Goosman had donated "starts" of the plants some years ago that began to spread.

The garden also has many varieties of daffodils and, as the warmer weather arrives, more spring bulbs and early perennials will come into bloom.

Although the club members work hard at keeping the garden in bloom, they like it to appear natural.

"We don't want this to be formal, like soldiers on parade," McCright said.

Members of the Livermore Amador Valley Garden Club have varied interests, like growing herbs and developing and exchanging recipes.

"We have lots of different affinity groups; some are more into flower arranging, cooking, art in the garden, herbs and recipes," McCright said.

"So many medicines come from herbs and plants," he added, picking the tip off a leaf of an artemisia, which he said is used for a liqueur plus has medicinal qualities.

He pointed to a daisy-like bloom and noted it is called a feverfew and has been used for centuries to lower temperatures.

After their monthly efforts at the Sensory Garden, the club members adjourn to a nearby sandwich shop for lunch and some garden talk.

Among its many service projects, garden club volunteers gather three times a year at Pleasanton Gardens retirement community on Kottinger Drive to prune and maintain plantings done by its residents over the years. Club members are also to thank for the hillside of daffodils that delights those driving between Pleasanton and Livermore on Stanley Boulevard.

McCright said they always welcome new ideas or contributions to the Sensory Garden, and he hopes people will visit it often. It's located just southwest of the Senior Center, marked by a couple of wisteria-covered arbors near its entrance.

"The best time for scents is in the evening," he said. "We encourage people to come and linger, at all times of day."

For your garden

What: Plant Sale

Who: Livermore Amador Valley Garden Club, offering great deals on plants from members' gardens

When: 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday, April 16

Where: Amador Valley High School parking lot; 1155 Santa Rita Road

Join the club

Interested in gardening? The Livermore Amador Valley Garden Club encourages interest in all phases of home gardening and promotes better horticultural practices, civic beauty and conservation of natural resources. Its monthly meetings feature speakers and are open to visitors. Visit or call Daniel McCright at (619) 456-1724.


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