Santa Fe Botanical Gardens opens Ojos y Manos

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By Arin McKenna

On Oct. 22, the Santa Fe Botanical Gardens opens Ojos y Manos: Eyes and Hands. Chief Operating Officer Clayton Bass calls the Phase 2 section of the garden “a singular destination.”
“There is nothing like this in Santa Fe,” Bass said. “Santa Fe has many, many cultural treasures, but this is certainly unlike anything we have.”
The new garden has many standout features.
For one thing, the staff believes it is the largest garden planted exclusively with native plants, unadulterated with other flora suited to this climate zone.
Landscape architect Gary Smith, who designed Phase 2, overlaid the design to incorporate as much of the original landscape as possible. Bass points to junipers, piñon trees and other plants that were left undisturbed.
Bass pointed to the flora surrounding one of the side paths and said, “So much of this island – it was all here. We’ve added just a few things. We are working very gently with the land because there’s such an abundance of beauty here already.
The original plants are augmented by new plantings, such as several species of native New Mexican oak, which were nearly driven to extinction by early settlers.
The entire garden is also designed as a learning experience, with everything from its layout to an app designed to facilitate that.
The garden is laid out in four quadrants, each dedicated to native plants used for weaving and dying, medicinal purposes, tools and crafts, and food.
The food section has both perennials utilized by hunter/gather peoples and the food crops grown by the Puebloan people – the “Three Sisters” of corn, beans and squash. It also includes Horno Plaza, an educational space with two adobe horno ovens that will be used to demonstrate baking food gathered in the garden.
The garden includes other classroom spaces that range from an intimate area called The Nest, which has a tiered rock structure for seating, to two large spaces with retractable shade covers. There is also a hands-on garden for children to plant and cultivate.
To enhance the learning experience, staff has created a free app for Ojos y Manos.
The apps will provide a deeper experience of the garden through such means as videos of an individual who identifies with each quadrant of the garden talking about how they use those plants.
“You can actually hear a curandera (traditional healer) being interviewed, so that she can talk about her tradition and her history,” Bass said.
“So Ojos y Manos really is putting personal face on this whole relationship between humans and plants.”
The app will also elaborate on some of the garden’s features, such as two climbing structures built into the Gathering Place created entirely from varieties of native New Mexican rock. Visitors can use the app at that location to learn about New Mexico’s geology.
The app will be available in both English and Spanish on the garden website and at the Apple Store and Google Play (search Santa Fe Botanical Gardens) on opening day. The visitor center will also have iPads preloaded with the app for visitors to check out.
Ojos y Manos also serves as a demonstration garden for water wise gardening. The garden’s layout and an impressive catchment system help utilize every drop of rainfall. There are also plans to build restrooms between the Phase 1 and Phase 2 sections with systems for treating the effluent with leach fields and ultraviolet light until it is pure enough to irrigate all but the food plants.
“So, again, it’s a continuing innovation of what we’re doing to make the garden more waterwise, and to really be a demonstration site,” Bass said. “The botanical garden, by its very nature, is a way to inspire people and help educate people about how to garden in this beautiful, high area of New Mexico. It absolutely can be done. You just have to do it in the right way.”
The garden’s dominant feature is the Gathering Place – a 52-foot diameter amphitheater in in its center. The Gathering Place can seat 125 to 300 people, depending on how it is set up.
Garden staff are developing programs for that space and also partnering with local cultural groups. Bass anticipates performances ranging from ballet and native dance to chef’s demonstrations. Planning for Shakespeare in the Garden – which will open in June 2017 – is already underway.
“Welcome to Santa Fe’s new learning landscape,” Bass said. “It certainly changers what’s going on in Santa Fe.”
The Botanical Gardens has long-term lease agreements with both the City of Santa Fe and the State of New Mexico, but the garden itself and all its structures are funded entirely by donations.
“People ask me this all the time, how are you paying for this?” Bass said. “And the answer is really simple, the people of Santa Fe are paying for this. The people of Santa Fe believe in this, they’re behind this.”
Opening day ceremonies on Oct. 22 begin with a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon with Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales. It includes hands on activities and performances in the Gathering Place every half hour, including native dance, mariachi, flamenco and a preview of Shakespeare in the Garden.
The garden will be open until 6 p.m. and the event is free.
“We want everyone to get a long cool drink of Phase 2, because it’s such a gorgeous place,” Bass said. “We want people to realize what a beautiful new asset has been created for the people of Santa Fe and beyond.”