Opinion: Blake Garden must be open to the public more than one weekend day per year

Blake Garden, owned by the UC system, is a beautiful public resource. But many working people cannot benefit from it since the garden is only open one weekend a year.

Blake Garden. Photo: UC Berkeley

Flowers, trees, beautiful gardens. A stunning view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge from the hills. Paths winding down and around a fabulous mansion complete with a reflecting pool filled with fish and a mysterious grotto at one end, with stone steps leading up, up, towards a lookout point overlooking the pool and house. Green space galore. All the trees and plants needed to make a kid or adult forget nearly any urban city woes they might have and help them learn more about nature. Is this an enchanted forest estate in Europe? Am I talking about the amazing Getty Villa and Getty Center in Los Angeles? No, I’m talking about the University of California’s Blake Garden nestled in the hills of Kensington just 15 minutes or so from downtown Berkeley. What a great opportunity to learn about nature and de-stress, so close to our urban center.

Amazing, right? Here’s a description from Blake Garden’s website:

“The 10.6-acre public garden, with its stunning hill views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate, is located four miles north of the Berkeley campus in the town of Kensington….Blake Garden encourages the development of understanding and appreciation of nature in the garden environment.”

Public. You read it right there in their description, “public garden.” Designed to “encourage…the development of understanding and appreciation of nature in the garden environment.” Owned by the University of California system, paid for in part or whole by your tax dollars. Feel free to go there, right, to visit your public garden? Wrong.

What’s the problem? You know what? UC’s wondrous Blake Garden, part of the complex that once housed the system’s president, is open to the public on ONLY ONE WEEKEND DAY PER YEAR (on Cal Day.) It’s closed to the public on every weekend day but Cal Day. You got that right. Now, if you’re among the large percentage of adults in the Bay Area who work during the week from Monday through Friday, often from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you can’t go. Blake Garden’s hours? “Open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed weekends and University holidays.”

So your University of California-owned public garden, by dint of its hours, actively discriminates against working adults. Want to take your kids to learn more about nature and enjoy the wonderful gardens yourself? If you’re a typical working adult, sorry. Sorry that you’ve been saving up your vacation days and sick days for vacations, errands and, well, being sick. Forget about saving those vacation days to visit friends or relatives in far-off locales and saving those sick days for days when you might have the flu or worse. Want to visit Blake Garden more than once a year, on Cal Day? Maybe fake a sickness, lie to your employer and use one of your hard-earned sick days, or use one of your hard-earned vacation days, and stroll down to Blake Garden, open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Now, I know you might be thinking, “Hey, what about the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden or Tilden or the Marina?” Well, yes, those are great. But trust me, none of those has quite what Blake Garden has. Just read some of the Yelp reviews:

“Blake Garden is a magical place tucked into a Kensington hillside. Beautiful views of the city and Golden Gate Bridge, a small redwood grove with benches for quiet contemplation, an abundant veggie garden, a lovely reflection pool with giant koi, interesting art installations, and meandering paths through the plants and flowers. Such a great place for a walking meditation or a picnic if you find yourself with a bit of time on a weekday (closed on weekends).”

“Some of the things that make this garden special: The view of the Golden Gate, the sounds of birds singing, the insects flying about, gnarly tree trunks, reflection pools and meandering paths to explore. The sweet garden smell that transported me back to my childhood.”

“The garden is only open on weekdays. It makes it a lot less crowded, but then people who work cannot enjoy this special place. I guess I’m selfish, I like having the garden almost all to myself.”

“As I strolled along the grassy path, I was immediately reminded of my childhood desire to frolic all day in a secret garden. Admittedly, I got a little giddy and my heart started beating juuust a little faster when I realized this was probably the closest thing to a secret European garden that I’ve ever been to!”

So, people of the Bay Area, rise up!

Discriminating against working adults by having Blake Garden open only one weekend day a year is unconscionable for a public garden run by a public, state institution. The people of the Bay Area deserve better. Administrators of Blake Garden: please, please, come to your senses and open Blake Garden to the public on more than ONE weekend day per year, Cal Day. What about having it open one weekend day every two months even? That would be a whopping SIX TIMES the number of weekend days currently open to the public than now, on which working adults could actually come visit this public garden. That would be a start. If you’re strapped budget-wise, how about closing the garden to the public on certain weekdays every once in awhile, and opening it on a weekend day instead?

People of the Bay Area, I think you get the picture. Below is the contact information for the Blake Garden administration and staff, please contact them and try to convince them that discrimination against working adults by closing Blake Garden every weekend day but one day a year goes against the Blake Garden’s mission to “encourage…the development of understanding and appreciation of nature in the garden environment.” Having Blake Garden open to the public only one weekend day a year effectively robs working adults of access to this wonderful, state-owned, “public” garden that is, as one of the Yelp reviwers mentioned, is probably the “closest thing to a secret European garden” that you’ll come to.

I guess the Blake Garden administrators want you to waste your vacation and sick time, forcing you to visit on weekdays, or harm the environment by traveling down-state to the Getty Villa or Getty Center on a weekend instead; they are effectively hiding and keeping off-limits from you such a world-class, relaxing, educational garden and estate just minutes away from downtown Berkeley. For shame, UC Berkeley and Blake Garden, for shame. If any of you know of any other UC Berkeley administrators we should also contact about this matter or have any other ideas on how to get Blake Garden accessible to working adults on more that one weekend day per year, please add that information in the comments.

Lauri Twitchell, Garden Manager
Phone: (510) 524-2449
Email: twitchel@ berkeley.edu

Janet DeHaven
Phone: (510) 524-2449
Email: janetdeh@berkeley.edu

Mike Frappier
Phone: (510) 524-2449
Email: mfrapp@berkeley.edu

 

John Spencer has lived in Berkeley for 10 years. He currently lives downtown and works in the food industry.