The entrance to the sensory garden.

Relish with all Senses – Sensory Garden at the Gardens of Lake Merritt

Squirrel drinking out of a fountain at the Sensory Garden, Lake Merritt.

I did give you a little break before I write again of yet another garden at the Gardens of Lake Merritt. You enter the Sensory Garden through a tile covered archway. It right away heightens your senses. You smell the mint and other herbs and notice all the colorful flowers. The whole garden is planted in raised beds that make it easy to touch the plants. The smoothed edged bricks are guidance for the visually impaired. The path meanders towards a shady seating area. We were delighted to watch a squirrel drink from the beautiful fountain. 

The former Herb and Fragrance Garden, established in 1978, got a makeover in 2004 through a collaboration of members of the Oakland East Bay Garden Center, the City’s Public Works Agency, and members of the Hillside Gardeners of Montclair. If you wish to help out and further experiment with your senses you are welcome to volunteer every third Saturday of the month in the morning.

Mint at the Sensory Garden.

The Sensory Garden is part of the Gardens of Lake Merritt at

666 Bellevue Ave, in Oakland, located near the South-West gate.

Which one is your favorite garden at the Gardens of Lake Merritt?

Previous posts of the gardens were:

Bonsai next to a sign for the Bonsai Garden of Lake Merritt.

Pick your Favorite Bonsai, Gardens of Lake Merritt

Maple bonsai at the Bonsai Garden, Lake Merritt.

In last week’s post about the AirBeeNBee at the Gardens of Lake Merritt I mentioned there was more to come. The bonsai garden, the only all volunteer based bonsai garden in the U.S., is an outstanding display of this Japanese tradition. Over a hundred little trees in a pot are presented. The oldest is over 1,600 years old!

A large stone shaped as a bunny at the bonsai garden at Lake Merritt, Oakland.

Open since 1999 the Bonsai Garden also features a collection of suiseki stones. Suiseki stones, also known as viewing stones, are stones that suggest a scene from nature. They are usually displayed as found and not modified. 

The cedar entrance gate to this garden is by master carpenter Hiroshi Sakaguchi from Northern California.

The gate to the bonsai garden by master carpenter Hiroshi Sakuguchi.

The Gardens of Lake Merritt are free, but donations are appreciated.

What is your favorite garden at the Gardens of Lake Merritt?

Here is a link to last week’s post about the AirBeeNBee.

AirBeeNBee with blooming native California flowers.

Stop by the AirBeeNBee at the Gardens at Lake Merritt, Oakland

AirBeeNBee at the Gardens of Lake Merritt, Oakland.

There are a lot of different garden types at the Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland. One structure stood out to us as we enjoyed the grounds: the AirBeeNBee. It is home for some of California’s 1600+ species of native nesting bees. 

Wooden hives and logs at the AirBeeNBee.

These bees don’t have a queen, or hives, or make honey. They are solitary and ground nesting. The AirBeeNBee was installed since many of the solitary bees usually nest in the ground. In this public garden the grounds are cleared, so this habitat was created with varied sized holes for different sizes of bees. They enjoy the flowers of the gardens, especially the Native Bee Pollinator Garden. Here flowers are planted for an all year long bloom since California native bees hatch year round.

Bees are not the only residents. Nearby is the dragonfly habitat and the monarch butterfly garden.

The Gardens of Lake Merritt are divided into 17 specialty gardens. I will highlight more of the gardens in later posts. 

The Gardens at Lake Merritt are located at 666 Bellevue Ave in Oakland. 

COVID open hours are Mondays to Fridays 7:30am – 3 pm, weekends 8 am – 4pm.

The Bee Hotel is near the South-West gate of the Gardens. 

Admission is free.

Have you been to the Gardens at Lake Merritt?

If you enjoy insectaries you should check out Foraging Island at Byxbee Park in Palo Alto. An ecological sculpture to invite insects and rodents to live there.

Sign for the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center in the background is the boardwalk.

Hope there is Strength in Numbers of the Swallows of Baylands Park

The Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm, and on Saturdays, from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm. We happened to stroll by on a Sunday and enjoyed the Baylands Boardwalk. Wide enough to keep socially distant, the newly constructed boardwalk overlooks the Bay.

Boardwalk at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center looking out to the Bay.

The most interesting part were the residents of the Center. Two species of swallows nest at Baylands Park from March to August. The barn swallows nesting under the deck, the cliff swallows prefer the eaves. A constant chirping from above and below. Young swallows asking for food in their nests. One nest right next to another. Little heads peeking out from the openings. You see the parents in their frantic flight in search of food. 

Cliff swallows peeking out of their nests at Baylands Park in Palo Alto.

While the saying goes: “One swallow doesn’t make a spring (or summer)”, explained by Word Histories as meaning “a single fortunate event doesn’t mean what follows will also be good”, we can still hope that the future will have multiple fortunate events. And if you see multiple swallows doesn’t this mean a great future?

Part of the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, one swallow flying to it.

Do you believe in strength in numbers?


Another bird watching opportunity on the Bay is in Sunnyvale’s Baylands Park.

Two women hugging each other. Rise in Solidarity.

Declare Solidarity in Oakland’s Chinatown

I came to Oakland’s Chinatown to see the Moments of Expressions exhibit by Peter Gee at the Oakland Asian Culture Center. From May 1st to June 20th, 2021 the OACC is showing a window and gallery exhibit. To see the inside gallery you have to schedule an appointment on their website, no walk-ins are possible.

Sign for Peter Gee's exhibit Moment of Expressions.

I wasn’t sure what time I would be able to go over. Therefore I decided early to skip the inhouse option and just see the window display. The OACC is located in the Pacific Renaissance Plaza nestled between Franklin and Webster and 11th and 9th. I walked up the stairs to the OACC and saw a collection of the pictures in one window. I wandered around to see if there were more displays, but if there were I missed them. 

Murals in Oakland's Chinatown

Going down the escalator opposite the Center I noticed the murals. These paintings are hiding the fact that a lot of businesses boarded up their stores. With an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans many businesses took extra precaution by boarding up their storefronts and shortening their hours. A lot of the paintings are expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. However, there are also thoughtful and funny images. 

Murals in Oakland's Chinatown.

Have you been to Oakland’s Chinatown?

If you like murals you might want to check out another of my posts: the 100 Murals project in San Jose.

Resources:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/09/california-arrest-attack-oakland-chinatown-asian-hate-crimes

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/man-charged-with-assault-hate-crime-for-attack-in-oakland/ar-BB1gkmXV

Streetview of the fairy houses at Fairy Glen, San Jose.

Spot some Fairies at Fairy Glen, San Jose

Fairy house with 'open kitchen' in Fairy Glen, San Jose.

I like finding these enchanted places in the neighborhood. Fairy Glen, is a tiny community of fairy houses nested in the Willow Glen neighborhood in San Jose. While driving down Celestine Avenue I noticed something that I first mistook for birdhouses. On closer inspection I could almost encounter the residents. Traces of their busy lives all around, from shiny stones to a complete open kitchen!

Fairy door in a tree at Fairy Glen.

There are doors to open at the height perfect for little kids. Some houses seem to float in the trees. It is really a magical place and a welcome distraction from the real world when you enter Fairy Glen.

Fairy houses hanging from a tree.

A few rules for the Fairy spotters:

You can bring a little token and leave it for a fairy to find.

There is even a mailbox. So if you have a wish or hope write it down and who knows?

Leave everything in place, the fairies get distracted if something moves or is missing.

Thank you, Lili Ghazian, the fairy godmother. I spotted her working on a new housing project across the street. You have inspired me.

Her latest fairy development is in Sunnyvale, on Pome Ave off of Fremont. 

Resources:

https://abc7news.com/san-jose-fairy-house-wonderland-coronavirus-shelter-in-place/6126186/

Check out my blog post about neighborhood walks for more ideas!

Entrance sign for the Land of Medicine Buddha.

Find Solace at the Land of Medicine Buddha

In the forest in Soquel is the Buddhist retreat of the Land of Medicine Buddha. The doors to the retreat are open to the public every day from 7 am to 5:30 pm. 

Sign for the 8 verses trail hike at the Land of Medicine Buddha.

We came here to walk the 8 verses loop trail, a 1.2 mile hike in the sacred Santa Cruz mountain setting. Parking is generally limited and you can use one of the offsite spots. But we found spots available during the week.

Prayer wheel at the Buddist retreat in Soquel.

You are greeted by prayer wheels and encouraged to walk around spinning them. The verses are spaced out and have a bench to contemplate. 

At the end of the hike is the dog blessings area. Dogs are welcome on leash. There are a few rules you should obey, e.g. talking in a low voice and not killing any animals, including bugs. 

Buddha trinket on a redwood stump.

The store for the Land of Medicine Buddha is only open Friday to Monday noon – 5 pm. But you can also order online.

Donations are encouraged. Right now they match all online donations up to $8,888 until the end of February.

Where do you find solace?

While in the area pick up some fresh eggs from Glaum.

The Tasmienne Monument with the Coyote Creek in the back.

Decode a Mysterious Plaque – Coyote Creek, San Jose

Metcalfe bridge, Coyote Creek Trail San Jose.

The other day I parked at the Coyote Creek Lake parking lot and walked south over the Metcalfe bridge. The paved trail is part of the Ridge Trail and also part of the National Recreational Trail system. You can bike all the way to Morgan Hill. A few more steps after the bridge you’ll see a plaque on the right. Covered in dirt, but still visible are 0 and 1s. On closer inspection the words Santa Clara Valley appear on top of the binary code.

The Tamienne Monument, with Santa Clara Valley written on it.

I found the Tamienne Monument, or, as some websites also call it, The Center of Santa Clara Valley. This marker is not monumental at all. The plaque can be overlooked. The binary hints to Silicon Valley, the Tamienne reference suggests a misspelling of the Tamyen people who once lived in the Valley.

There is no acknowledgement of the creator and it is not listed in the public art repository of San Jose. For the binary it is less mysterious, I can spoil this for you:

Binary – Hex – ACSII char

01010011 – 53 – S

01100001 – 61 – a

01101110 – 6E – n

01110100 – 74 – t

01100001 – 61 – a

00100000 – 20 – ” ” (space)

01000011 – 43 – C

01101100 – 6C – l

01100001 – 61 – a

01110010 – 72 – r

01100001 – 61 – a

00100000 – 20 – ” ” (space)

01010110 – 56 – V

01100001 – 61 – a

01101100 – 6C – l

01101100 – 6C – l

01100101 – 65 – e

01111001 – 79 – y

What do you know about the Center of Santa Clara Valley?

If you like to bike around San Jose, the Three Creeks Trail in San Jose is another option.

Resources:

https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM9AJ5_Geographic_Center_of_Santa_Clara_Valley_California

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coyote_Creek_Trail

https://www.americantrails.org/resources/coyote-creek-trail-san-jose-trail-network-california

Greg Brown mural in Palo Alto.

Neighborhood Walks

COVID has most of us homebound and with a minimal radius to explore. I thought I’ll give you some ideas to spice up your daily neighborhood walks. While most of these specific walks are for Silicon Valley, the ideas should transfer to other areas. So, grab your mask and get your steps in with these walking ideas:

Garden

Sign reads: 
Green Garden of Mountain View
Conserves Water
Reduces Waste
Provides Habitat

We are blessed in the Bay Area with a long growing season. To get inspired for your own vegetable garden you should check out the local community gardens and wander around. There are plenty of Native Plant Gardens in the area. The Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society has a great list (https://www.cnps-scv.org/gardening/gardening-with-natives/69-public-gardens-of-native-plants-69).  In the same category, Mountain View’s Green Garden Showcase features front yards that are examples of California Native Plants, water wise gardens, and environmental friendly practices.(https://www.mountainview.gov/depts/pw/services/conserve/landscape/showcase.asp)

Art

Rodin's thinker (part of the Gates of Hell) at Stanford University.

With all museums closed right now I admit I’m a little art deprived. 

Sculptures are great outdoor artworks you can still admire. One of the largest collections of sculptures around is on the Stanford Campus. You can limit yourself to Rodin, it’s the largest in the U.S., or go around campus and find other inspiring pieces.

The Triton Museum in Santa Clara features a sculpture garden on the premises. (https://www.santaclaraca.gov/Home/Components/ServiceDirectory/ServiceDirectory/1260/2661)

Some local towns have maps to their public art works. I found the bike racks in Los Altos a welcoming change and great for kids to try to find them all!

If you are more of a mural enthusiast I recommend San Jose, Redwood City, and Palo Alto.

Some examples of public art:

Santa Clara: https://www.santaclaraca.gov/our-city/about-santa-clara/maps/art-statues

Los Altos: https://www.losaltosca.gov/publicartscommission/page/public-sculpture

Palo Alto (map): https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1AUOuWuDvI0_jAbZYvvY_JBD9lIs&ll=37.42470074587974%2C-122.16085689067381&z=14

History

San Jose History Walk (Number 25)

San Jose as the first Capitol of California has a rich history to share. They compiled a history walk for downtown. No need to print out a map, you can just follow the signs. If you would rather have a digital idea or would like to print out the brochure, here is the PDF: https://www.sanjose.org/pdf/downtown-san-jose-historic-walking-tour-guide

Japantown in San Jose offers historic information on their benches.

A few other towns have  lists of historic buildings. Rich Heli has compiled three historic walking tours for Mountain View: https://rick-heli.info/mvtour/

Shopping

High Delta Market a window art installation in Palo Alto.

While most shops are currently closed, most downtowns invite you for a nice evening stroll on main street. Mountain View, for example, closed off their downtown area for most car traffic. The other night I walked by an exercise class. Also window shopping is an option. My favorite non-shopping window is in Palo Alto at the Future Institute.

If you feel the need to acquire something while on a walk, check out a little free library near you or in some other neighborhood.

Nature

Greg Brown mural in Palo Alto.

I love the fact that we are able to walk to our neighborhood park. If you want to mix it up, why not explore another park near you? 

Canopy has  multiple self-guided tree walks: https://canopy.org/our-work/tree-walks/

Animals

Buddy the new donkey of Bol Park, Palo Alto.

Birdwatching while walking is always a great pastime. If you want to see egrets you should check out the Google campus.

Bring the kids for a peak at the donkeys in Bol Park

Do you have ideas for fun activity walks?

PEZ Pole in Sunnyvale with a sign that reads: Das PEZler

Safari in the Neighborhood – Sunnyvale PEZ Pole

Close up of multiple PEZ dispensers.

Not only PEZ dispensers are displayed on the front lawn at 298 Leota Ave in Sunnyvale, there are all sorts of toys and little trinkets. The PEZ Pole is the description you get from Google maps, the sign on the pole says: Das PEZLER – a German collection? PEZ dispensers are pinned to a power pole. A lot of Santas from different time periods it seems, but also favorite Disney characters, snowmen and bunnies. The PEZ lunchbox knows: “PEZ makes you smile!”

Plastic dinosaur looking at a succulent.

The other things that made me smile are the dinosaurs fighting plastic soldiers – not the fighting, just the ingenious re-use of plastic toys! The dinosaurs are next to succulents which makes them excellent objects for a photo safari! But behold the giraffes assembled across from them! If you enjoy statues this place has you covered too! Buddhas sit together with Madonnas, angels, a menorah, and a dreamcatcher – a peaceful sight indeed. 

Overall it is a great place to explore and discover. If you are tired of walking around in your neighborhood I suggest stopping by this place and let your kids count the PEZ Santas, or photograph other objects. 

Peace figures in the front lawn in Sunnyvale.

Thank you whoever put out the effort to entertain us in such an amusing way! You can email them at flowerpowercorner at gmail.com if you have any comments, ideas, or suggestions.

Where do you go on a photo-neighborhood-safari?

By the way, to all the PEZ aficionados, the PEZ museum in Burlingame is permanently closed. To see what it was like check out my blog post: Sweeten your Museum Visit