News Column

Santa Fe Botanical Garden blossoms into celebration venue

May 18, 2014

By Phaedra Haywood, The Santa Fe New Mexican

May 18--Carpets of violet Veronica and pink chintz thyme are beginning to blanket the ground, and bees are visiting them. The crab apple trees have finished blossoming, and their leaves are turning rosy red for the summer.

It's the Santa Fe Botanical Garden's first spring -- the high desert garden on Museum Hill opened last July -- and in the words of volunteer docent Jana Theis, it is "greening up."

The centerpiece of the garden -- an orchard of semi-dwarf fruit trees, including peaches, pears, apples and apricots -- is just getting established. And the trumpet and edible grape vines have not yet begun to climb the patinaed steel ramadas created by sculptor Lex Lucius.

But succulent and spiky chicks and hens are already clustering in the microclimates of the nooks and crannies created by the escarpments made from locally quarried stone, and clumps of purple chives are in full bloom.

And already the public is beginning to enjoy the open and orderly outdoor space enhanced by the large-scale origami-esque sculptures of the garden's currently featured artist, Kevin Box.

Friday, sisters Lili Reece and Angela Reece, employees of Walter Burke Catering, were setting tables with white cloths and sage-colored napkins under the Welcoming Ramada at the garden's entrance for a luncheon later that day.

Two of the 14 acres overseen by the nonprofit have been developed into gardens, with stone walkways, benches and shade structures; 2 more acres, including more edible and ornamental plants, will be developed in the next phase.

Fran Cole, public relations director for the the nonprofit botanical garden, said by definition, the garden is about science and education. The facility provides classes, lectures and workshops. It provides a place for people to learn more about their natural environment and what grows in their "zone" in the world. She said it is a place were botanists and horticulturalists can come see examples of plants they might be studying.

"It has a collection of plants just like an art museum has a collection of paintings," she said. "But it's also about beauty."

Cole said the beauty part has prompted people to begin booking the garden for weddings and other special events.

"We've had two weddings since we opened and have quite a few reserved and a bunch pending," Cole said recently. "They say Santa Fe is a destination wedding location. We like to think a lot of people come here and just think this is the most magical place in the world to tie the knot. And of course, people can rent the garden for parties, too -- corporate events, rehearsal dinners."

"People call every day to see the garden," said Cole, adding that her role has morphed a bit, from just doing PR and organizing special events hosted by the garden to giving tours to people who would like to rent the space, such as engaged couples.

"It's endearing and funny to be in on their conversations," she said. " 'Where should we stand? Where should we walk? How should we decorate?' With creativity, you can turn an amazing spot into a more amazing spot."

The garden does not allow amplified music or bright lights, so events there are more likely to be daytime or early evening affairs. And the facility does not own tables, chairs or tents, so those wishing to use the space often also need referrals for caterers and party planning services. Cole is beginning to compile a list.

What the garden does offer is several "settings" where chairs can be placed, and celebrations and ceremonies can be staged.

Three steel ramadas -- one at the entrance and two on either side of the orchard and the Rose and Lavender Walk -- provide focal points and space for seating. The Welcome Ramada accommodates 75 people standing or 50 seated. The north and south ramadas accommodate 30 people standing. A sunken "dry garden" flanked by New Mexico privet, Apache plume and blooming cactus is said to accommodate 20 standing, but it also looks like a great place for a more intimate summer brunch.

Larger parties can be accommodated on Kearny's Gap Bridge. The 62-foot bridge -- which has been sandblasted and repainted a bright red -- was built in 1913 and was originally in service along N.M. 283 southwest of Las Vegas, N.M.

It now spans the Arroyo de los Pinos, and, according to the garden's pricing sheet, can accommodate 100 people standing, 64 seated at tables or 80 seated theater-style. The price for renting it ranges from $600 to $1,000, depending on the number of people and length of time. The entire garden can accommodate about 250 people and rents for $900 to $1,500.

The garden's ever-evolving backdrop of native and non-native plants -- fringed sage, coral bells, Apache plume, penstemons, pussy toes and Julia Child roses (they're yellow like butter) -- are included in the price.

Contact Phaedra Haywood at

If you go

What: Santa Fe Botanical Garden

Where: 715 Camino Lejo on Museum Hill

Cost: Daily admission to the garden is $7 between April and October. Entry is free on once-a-month community days.

Learn more: Visit www.santafe


(c)2014 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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