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FAMILY

Seeded With New Ideas

Beginning this season, living art will bloom in Carlsbad's Flower Fields.

March 16, 2000|DAN BENNETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CARLSBAD — At the Flower Fields here, the union of art and nature blooms.

The 50-plus acres of giant Tecolote ranunculus and other flowers are again open for business and lingering looks on farmland off Palomar Airport Road, just east of Interstate 5. The popular spot, drawing more than 200,000 visitors each spring, is known for its spectacular array of red, yellow, white, pink, orange and salmon flowers by the thousands.

This year, the owners of the property made good on a promise not to stay stagnant and have added an outdoor art display to go with the already impressive collection of flowers. Color Project 2000, an ambitious art-meets-nature program expected to continue well into the century, will use flowers as a medium--and much more.

"What was apparent to us is that flowers have a different kind of aesthetic," said Christopher Calkins, president of the Flower Fields. "We looked at a place like the Getty Museum, where outdoor art flourished in a setting known for its indoor art. What we have with this project is the opportunity to experience the flowers, then the opportunity to learn more about flowers as art."

The first installation in Color Project 2000 is a contained garden by San Diego painter Patricia Patterson, a professor of visual arts at UC San Diego. Patterson has created a garden design inspired by medieval, Islamic and Christian traditions. The 5,000-square-foot garden is centered around a reflecting pool and features flower beds, painted wood trellises, vine-covered arches, walking paths, wooden benches and aviaries.

"The use of flowers as art is a tradition going back to Monet and beyond," said Lynda Forsha, the curator for Color Project 2000. "This kind of art can take many forms. There is symmetry, composition, many different aspects. Patricia was thinking about all these things when she designed the site. The idea is to extend the experience of walking in the flower fields."

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Forsha, who was a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla (now the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art) for 14 years, is assigned the task of finding new projects. New York painter Gary Lang will debut his work in spring 2001, a garden and circular floral labyrinth with a spiral footpath. Lang's work will coexist with Patterson's next year. Patterson's garden will then be dismantled, and a new artist will create a design in its place for 2002.

"Each project will get a two-year run," Forsha said. "What we are looking for is a rhythm. The design that moves in must complement not only the current design, but also the design planned for the following year. In that way, the art is much more living and organic."

All this, and ranunculus too (plus some gladiolus, watsonia, sparaxis, oxalis, babiana and tritonia).

The Flower Fields has been drawing families since the 1950s, first in its original location on a coastal slope overlooking the ocean and Highway 101, and since the mid-1970s at its current home. The history of the fields goes back to 1922, when Ed Frazee watched his father, Frank, maintain the flowers of horticulturist Luther Gage in Carlsbad. Among those flowers were ranunculus.

At 16, Ed quit school to help his father with the family's own burgeoning flower operation on land that is now part of Camp Pendleton. Ed eventually took over, and by the 1950s had come up with an advanced ranunculus breed known as a double, with an infusion of petals never before seen. The gorgeous acreage, by then in Carlsbad, drew the attention of increasing motor traffic between Los Angeles and San Diego, even more so when the Flower Fields moved to its current spot.

Though the Flower Fields have occasionally come on troubled financial times, they survived, controlled later by Ed's sons John and Jim, then, starting in 1993, by the Ecke family, famous for poinsettias, who have maintained the fields since. Ed Frazee, the founder, has served as a consultant and, at 82, can still be seen on occasion walking the fields.

Also new this year is an Armstrong Garden Center location, where, after getting their fill of flowers, visitors are encouraged to buy the tools they need to become gardeners themselves.

Only a block from the amusement park Legoland, the Flower Fields are expected to become a bigger attraction than ever.

"We will have more than 5,000 elementary school kids learn more about farming, gardening, color and nature than they ever knew," Calkins said. "That's through our educational program alone. For everyone else, it's cheap--it's free for little kids. There are no limits on the freedom to stop, sit, walk, run. You can do anything you want as long as you don't run through the middle of the flowers. That's the only thing we don't want you to do."

Flowers, Calkins says, are part of our emotional heritage. "This place has its origins in people who had a passion for flowers," he said. "We believe they play an important role in people's lives. Think of this: What does the color of spring do for you?"

BE THERE

The Flower Fields and Color Project 2000, 10 a.m. to one hour before dusk, now through early May. Take Interstate 5 south and exit at Palomar Airport Road in Carlsbad. Go east two blocks and turn left on Paseo Del Norte. Adults, $4; children 6-12, $2; children 5 and under, free.

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