Learning from Nature

“Green exercise improves psychological health.” — Richard Louv

Nature is our best muse. It is also our wisest teacher. This point of view echoes deep within BiniChic’s roots, permeating our designs and lifestyle. Today we’d like to place the spotlight on our dear friend and kindred spirit, Carol Puck Erickson, whose passion for creating a synergy between nature, art and people is a great source of inspiration.

A planter of beautiful arid plants from one of Puck’s projects with Arcadia Studio.

BiniChic’s Susan  (“Fung” to some) — actually, Fung comes from the decidedly unflattering nickname, “Fungus”, given by the same 5th grade classmates who gave Carol the nickname “Puck”–  was recently out in California, where she got to spend some quality time with her dearest, oldest friend, Puck. They’ve gone on many magical adventures together — both real and imagined — since they were both 9 years old.

Their love of nature and the outdoors kicked in while they were still very young. They were both Girl Scouts, and went on many camping trips and outdoor treks.

Above, Fung and Puck as teenagers doing the Scout salute. On the right, the Camp Hill Girl Scouts kicking up a leg before going out canoeing. (Susan is the second from the left, and Puck the sixth from the left)

Born in Pennsylvania, Puck has been a resident of the small town of Los Olivos (in California’s Santa Ynez Valley) for the past four decades, where she has become a solid member of the tight-knit community.

An extremely talented landscape architect, Puck doesn’t just “plant” plants, but creates visually rich and chromatically interesting landscapes, while also incorporating many native plants into each of her projects. Initially trained at RISD in visual arts, you can see  that artist’s eye overseeing her designs. She has been a founding partner in Arcadia Studio since 2001, and her extensive portfolio includes a long list of beautiful residences, hospitals, public buildings, and ranches in the Santa Ynez Valley as well as many residences and arid gardens in Arizona.

View of the Santa Ynez Valley Botanical Garden.

Always thinking of ways to create and give back, the pair organized a fun event during Susan’s trip. Through the sale of BiniChic bags and t-shirts they were able to raise funds and awareness for Puck’s latest community project: The Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden.

Some of the BiniChic bags that were on sale at the benefit pop-up sale.

The SYV Botanic Garden is a wonderful resource for community interaction and horticultural information; designed, built and made possible by the efforts of the Santa Ynez Valley community. Puck is a founding member of this project, which will encourage community collaboration, new ways of thinking about environmental education and appreciation of the natural world.

They have a particular focus on plants native to the Santa Ynez River watershed, teaching school-aged children about their history and their value in the environment.

A young gardener feeling the California Poppies, and a view of the Botanical Garden.

Susan sat down with Puck for an interview to find out more about how this project was made possible and the philosophy behind it:

Susan: What inspired you to start the Botanical Garden?

Puck: First of all, I [singular] did not start the Botanic Garden.  As with many experiences in life, the Garden began because a number of people in the community saw an opportunity and collaborated to develop a vision for a local garden based on common ground.

S: When was it founded?

P: We planted our first trees almost five years ago with about 2 yrs. of organizational work before groundbreaking.

S: How was it received by the local community then, and how is it being received now?

P: As with many new ideas or projects, there was a certain amount of skepticism.  Although we could see a Garden flourishing on the site, filled with children, the elderly, teens, etc.; when we first began what the community actually saw was a severely degraded site that would barely support weed growth.  No wonder they were puzzled, worried or just plain cynical!

Manzanita plants thrive at the Garden.

S: We understand that the purpose is to give locals an opportunity to enjoy native plants and learn more about the history of the Santa Ynez Valley through native plants and their uses. Can you explain some of the programs that make this happen?

P: Now, this week actually, we hosted a series of outdoor classes for five schools within the Santa Ynez Valley, collaborating with teachers from our local Chumash tribe. This program enriches the required California history curriculum for all fourth graders. You can go to our Facebook page to review the activities.

Clapper sticks, soft water turtle rattles and jewelry made out of native Rose Hips are all used to educate the school children about the traditional Chumash culture.

Next week we have students from one of the local prep schools coming to the Garden to measure our trees’ growth and clear our willow ‘maze.’  And the following week we have Cub Scouts coming to the Garden to plant new plants around our children’s amphitheater, currently under construction.

And every day, people walk their dogs, explore with their kids, or just catch their breath in a very busy world.  I think we are now really part of the community fabric.

Children are taught about the environment where Tule grows, how it’s picked and thatched to construct an ‘Ap, the traditional Chumash dwelling. “A family of four would spend their nights in this tule. The Chumash never wasted any material. The left over reeds were used to weave floor mats, baskets and canoes to mention a few.” (from the SYVBG facebook page)

S: Why do you feel its important for people–especially children– to experience nature in their everyday lives?

P: We often forget we are animals with a natural deep seeded affinity to the natural world.  For children, as they explore the Garden ALL of their senses are activated and they may not be aware of it, but they are constantly synthesizing information as they look, touch, smell, balance.  Any every day is different.  They begin to grasp the concept of subtlety and nuance.  It is magical.

Puck leading a group of small children that learned to identify the wildflowers in the Garden, and later seeded the young meadow with wildflower seeds.

S: Tell us how you, as a Landscape Architect, create with plants and nature, and why this gives you so much satisfaction.

P: As you know, as a child, I absolutely loved being outside.  And I was fortunate to be raised around gardeners and campers.  My work is a wonderful combination of science and art.  And although I often feel like a painter or sculptor I am not alone in my work.  The forces of natures, the rhythms of the seasons all remind me that I am just a small piece of the puzzle.

S: BiniChic’s design philosophy is very much built on the principles of Wabi-Sabi–that Japanese philosophy where the impermanent, unfinished and imperfect are considered positive qualities which reflect a Zen approach to living, or reality. Does this philosophy play any part in your work?

P: Absolutely.  I think in order to succeed as a landscape architect you must embrace those principles.  Nature is never ‘perfect’ – or as in our culture we view the concept of ‘perfect’ it is impermanent it is unfinished.  To me, that is where the joy is found.  I think the Garden is a reflection of those principles.

A Blue Bird perched on one of the Garden’s trees. Below, one of the three Nest Boxes installed for the Blue Birds. “It is important to install the box so the opening is in shade. A perch is missing to keep larger birds and other critters from disrupting the Bluebirds.” (from the SYVBG facebook page)

S: What is your vision for this garden in the future?

P: As the Garden grows and evolves, new microclimates will reveal themselves allowing us to explore further dimensions of this environment.  The community will be part of that journey, building shared memories – a fundamental component of healthy communities.  New leaders and visions will emerge and I will relish every moment I can cheer them on.

Puck peeking out of the ‘Ap at the SYVBG.


And we here at BiniChic cheer on Puck, to keep creating and sharing her gift for bringing nature into our lives.

photo credits: All photos are from the SYVBG’s Facebook except for the first one, which is by Arcadia Studio. The one of the BiniChic bags and the last one in the post of Puck are taken by Fung.

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