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Santa Fe Botanical Garden’s new expansion offers earth creations to feed your soul

The new will honor the old when the second phase of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden on Museum Hill opens Saturday, interspersed with plantings that offered medicine, food and materials for weaving and dyeing, toolmaking and carving over the centuries for people who lived on these lands.

The two acres of “Ojos y Manos: Eyes and Hands” offer “the largest place in Santa Fe that has all native plants, all things that are really indigenous and grow here,” said Clayton Bass, chief executive officer of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.

And that’s only appropriate, he said, pointing out that the organization was begun almost 30 years ago in 1987 to help offer guidance to people new to the area who were wrestling with how and what they could grow in the high desert climate.

The new section, which doesn’t quite double the 2.5 acres that were opened in 2013 across the arroyo cutting through the property, strongly focuses on educating people about native plants, their uses and cultivation. A sunken, rounded amphitheater is surrounded by three levels of plantings that will host food crops, as well as five levels of seating that can accommodate about 150 people – but the entire space might handle up to 300 people, according to Bass.

To cut down on intrusive signs or informational displays, the garden has created an app that visitors can download for free. It will include presentations such as a curandera talking about medicinal plants, a weaver talking about basketry materials and a farmer talking about traditional crops.

The Gathering Space Amphitheater itself will host entertainment, as well as education. Next summer, performances of “Shakespeare in the Garden” will take place, Bass said, adding that they probably will launch at the end of June with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He said that project is being guided by John Andrews and Rachel Kelly, who were involved in producing Shakespeare plays at St. John’s College in past years.

Incorporated into the amphitheater’s levels are two stretches of rocks upon which visitors will be welcome to climb, as well as learn the geology of the state, since all the native rocks are represented, Bass said.

People will be less welcome to climb on two mounds covered with native grasses that soften the entry sides to the space, along with two columns of flattened stones that flank the entrance. With irrigation piping woven throughout, the columns will host plants that can survive in a rock-garden type of setting.

A mosaic designed by landscape architect W. Gary Smith, who also designed the entire $2.5 million expansion, graces the wall of a storage building for the education department and also offers a backdrop from many viewpoints of the amphitheater. Called “Sisters of the Sun and Moon,” it incorporates the traditional three sisters of Native nourishment – corn, squash and beans – while also echoing the natural landscape of Sun and Moon mountains in the Sangre de Cristos.

Three outdoor classrooms with an adjustable shade structure are nestled among plants and rocks on the upper level of the space, along with an horno plaza, which includes a small and larger horno, and is likely to host a number of cooking and baking demonstrations. This and several other areas includes benches, as well as rocks, where people can pause and ponder their surroundings.

Some new construction and plantings also were added on the original developed portion of the garden just before the red bridge that leads to Ojos y Manos, including a pavilion that will have retractable sides of heavy vinyl. Bass said that building will be heated to host musical groups, not to mention visitors in search of a warm space, during the winter Glow event, when lights are festooned through the garden for the winter holiday season.

The pavilion already has been used for programs, training sessions and dinners, and can host 90 people seated or about 125 standing for events such as a cocktail party, he said.

Most areas have been made handicapped accessible and have handrails installed in the new section to offer a little extra safety for people navigating the different levels, Bass added.

The Botanical Garden’s upcoming lecture series, which extends through next spring, is devoted to the theme of the new garden area, called both an ethnobotanical garden and a learning landscape. Or, as the opening weekend’s speaker refers to botanical gardens, “cathedrals of chlorophyll,” according to Bass.

That speaker, Panayoti Kelaidis, is curator emeritus at the Denver Botanical Garden, and was slated to talk about “Steppe Biomass” and sign his book on Thursday. The next lecture coming up is by landscape architect Baker Morrow, who will speak about “Canyon Gardens: The New Mexican Historic Landscape Across the Centuries” on Nov. 10.

Upcoming activities and lectures can be found at santafebotanicalgarden.org.

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