Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Garden Visit: Ceramicist Marcia Donahue’s Playful and Surreal Outdoor Gallery in Berkeley

Search

Garden Visit: Ceramicist Marcia Donahue’s Playful and Surreal Outdoor Gallery in Berkeley

August 17, 2022

Ever been to a garden that you feel compelled to visit again and again because you discover surprising new things—curious curios, fantastic foliage, powerful plant pairings—each time? That’s what happened to me when I was recently introduced to the exuberant garden crafted and curated by Marcia Donahue. Embellishing a large Victorian house, jungle-like subtropical plants and countless sculptures, statues, and ceramics weave and wind their way throughout. (Oh, and we can’t forget the flock of friendly bantam chickens that roam freely.) Marcia has lived and gardened at her Berkeley home for 44 years, and all her care and fine-tuning, and passion for storytelling with plants and garden art really shine through.

Join me as we take a look around:

Photography by Kier Holmes.

Above: An example of Marcia’s “real but not alive” ceramic mushrooms.

Throughout the garden, you’ll find not-quite mushrooms and hybrid varieties of ‘bambusa ceramica’—ceramics all with a pinch of realism and a splash of humor—sprouting up unexpectedly through the lushness and punctuating the spaces between plants. “They are real, but not alive,” says Marcia. In her front garden, large ceramic beads, some the size of grapefruits, dangle and decorate mature trees. “I have made many malas of 108 clay beads to garland and honor trees and the passage of time.” (Malas are prayer beads used by Hindus and Buddhists in their spiritual practices.)  She tells me that she stopped carving rocks and started working in clay about 18 years ago. Marcia adds,  “My clay work is about and for the garden and other people’s gardens. I’m currently having an unexpectedly good time making flower pots!”

An oversized mala drapes over a tree.
Above: An oversized mala drapes over a tree.

Twelve bantam chickens of various breeds have free rein over Marcia’s garden. I ask Marcia how her feathered friends have managed not to destroy her garden. “Bantams don’t eat plants that have the texture of plastic, like bromeliads, phormiums, citrus, clivia and hellebores,” she says. “Though little bantam chickens scratch, eat plants, and poop, they do it in a smaller way than full-sized chickens.” Marcia keeps her chickens from getting into her pots and mussing things up by planting bromeliads under and around more susceptible plants; pretty rocks and clay sculptures also minimize the damage.

Marcia is a master of reuse: note the horseshoes and bowling balls that she artfully integrated into her landscape design.
Above: Marcia is a master of reuse: note the horseshoes and bowling balls that she artfully integrated into her landscape design.

I also ask Marcia how she keeps all her countless plants looking so lush and lovely. “Of course water is miraculous for keeping plants looking good, but I also fertilize with chicken manure and compost. Friends have given me Romeo, a high test fertilizer, which I have used very infrequently.” And, naturally, no pesticides are used, except for an occasional war on ants with ant bait.

A large raised koi pond sits as center stage, surrounded by a harmonious collection of pots, plants and ceramics.
Above: A large raised koi pond sits as center stage, surrounded by a harmonious collection of pots, plants and ceramics.

While strolling through Marcia’s outdoor gallery, one wonders how she is able to strike a balance between the ceramics and plants. Marcia tells me, “Repetition or variations on a theme are time honored for this.” Her garden, of course, has changed and evolved over the years, with trees coming and going, plant failures culled, and a large koi pond added in the middle of the back garden. But mostly, she’s created a garden that amuses herself and others, one that gives people permission to embrace bold ideas and to garden with a free spirit. Marcia clearly has an artist’s eye for turning everyday objects into art and strategically placing them throughout the garden. If you look close enough, and take your time, you will discover cleverly repurposed items such as a car tire turned into a planting container filled with silverware and old gravestones rescued from the city dump and repurposed as functional pavers.

Marcia treats her garden as a place to play and be creative.
Above: Marcia treats her garden as a place to play and be creative.

For close to 30 years, Marcia’s garden has been open on Sunday afternoons for anyone interested. Marcia says, “All those years ago, Mark Bullwinkle and I thought we’d use the garden as our gallery for our sculptures. I have kept it open ever since.” (Mark is a Bay Area artist known for his work in rusted steel.) Marcia adds, “I like to share garden knowledge and inspiration, as others have shared with me.”

For more Berkeley gardens, see:

(Visited 2,538 times, 1 visits today)
You need to login or register to view and manage your bookmarks.

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0