A Winner Among the Slots

Gardens for your “trowel” list

By Kathy Conner Cornell

Southside Master Gardener

The Santa Rose Labyrinth of the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is one of the special features in this Sparks, Nevada treasure.  The gardens are located in the Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, which is open daily at 8 a.m., and closes at dusk.  Walking the labyrinth can be a soothing experience.  

          My husband and I love to travel and often visit public gardens.  During a recent trip we spent a few nights in Sparks, Nevada, just west of Reno and has its own assortment of casinos.  We had the good fortune to visit the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.

          We often complain about our typical summer weather and our heavy clay soils, personally I am loving this atypical weather.  But think about gardening at an altitude of 4600 feet with less than 7 inches of rain per year and a growing season of less than 120 days.  Daily temperatures can fluctuate 50 degrees within a 24-hour period.  Few plants can survive these harsh conditions but yet the gardens are beautiful.

          The May Gardens were funded through a grant from the Wilbur May Foundation as a lasting tribute to philanthropist and world traveler Wilbur D. May.  Artifacts from May’s travels are housed in the May Museum.  The gardens are located in the Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, which as its name indicates, was a working ranch.  In addition to the Gardens and Museum, the 570-acre park features native pastures and sages, picnic and recreational areas.  Heritage ranch equipment is displayed along the roadways.

          The goal of the May Gardens and Arboretum is to serve as a demonstration garden and educational resource.  Among more than twenty themed gardens are the Burke garden featuring perennials with bloom times from spring to fall and David’s Grove with High Sierra native plants and upper elevation evergreen trees and shrubs.  The Xeriscape Demonstration Garden has low water use plants, both native and non-natives that are well adapted.  We did see some irrigation but for the most part, the gardens flourish because the right plants were chosen for the site.  What a great way for locals to learn what will work successfully in their home gardens.

          The feature that I fell in love with was The Labyrinth.  Labyrinths, not to be confused with mazes, have been around for over 4000 years with the oldest in Sardinia dating 2500 to 2000 B.C.  A walk on the winding path can lead you through a spiritual journey.  If you allow your mind to be in the moment you will feel a sense of peace at the completion of the walk.  It is this serenity that makes labyrinths a popular addition to hospital landscapes where friends and family are dealing with health issues of loved ones.  This labyrinth, known as the Santa Rosa Labyrinth is dedicated to victims of violent crime and their loved ones.  How sad to think that in less than a month after this visit the entire student and faculty body of Sparks Middle School were added to the list of victims. 

          If you visit Reno or Lake Tahoe and need a break from the cha-ching of the slot machines, take the short ride to visit the May Gardens and Arboretum.  The gardens and museum are open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk and are free to the public.  It is fascinating to see the range of plants that can happily live in this somewhat hostile environment.

          If you would like to learn more about the Southside Master Gardener Association visit www.ssmga.org or contact Bill McCaleb at the Halifax Extension Office at 434-476-2147.