On the outskirts of Watsonville, with the Santa Cruz Mountains spread out in the distance, is an unexpected and vibrant oasis where nature and art intermingle. The Sierra Azul Nursery and Gardens does more than sell plants and flowers to landscapers and homeowners. In addition to an abundant retail area and landscaping services, Sierra Azul features two acres of “demonstration gardens” available for the public to enjoy.
The nursery and gardens are open year round with the exception of three days. However, from June 1st through October 31st, Sierra Azul teams up with the Pajaro Valley Arts Council (PVAC) for Sculpture IS – an annual show of sculptures by California artists that are exhibited around the lush property.
The PVAC is a non-profit organization founded to promote arts in the Pajaro Valley and South Santa Cruz County regions by engaging the community in cultural events, and showcasing local artwork. Sculpture IS began as an extension of a seven-week sculpture exhibit held in the PVAC downtown Watsonville gallery in 2006. Sierra Azul’s owner, Jeff Rosendale, offered the use of the gardens as an expansive location to display the size and scale of selected sculptures. To meet the growing interest, the show was expanded in 2007 to become a yearly, five-month long event. This June, 2016 will be the 10th anniversary of Sierra Azul’s outdoor art show.
Participating California artists represent diverse areas and creative expertise through the platform of Sculpture IS. There are approximately 30-40 artists featured each year. The sculptural medias are a mix of durable, outdoor-friendly materials, including metal, wood, ceramics, bronze, glass, and concrete. Most of the pieces displayed are for sale, with the artists determining the selling price. The artwork is delivered and installed mid-May, and is curated and juried by volunteers. Within the last ten years, over 500 sculptures have been displayed throughout Sierra Azul’s garden.
Rosendale has been designing gardens and landscapes since 1974, and it shows in a thriving, natural environment that is as much a work of art as the sculptures playfully immersed throughout it. The seasonal progression of the garden synchronizes beautifully with the arrival of the sculptures in Spring. Rosendale has designed the space specializing in water conservation, bee and butterfly habitat, and native and Mediterranean plants. Much of the demonstration garden was planted twenty years ago, and the wild but well-maintained scenery compliments the detailed craftsmanship of each individual sculpture. It is a refuge full of color, texture, and aromas to awaken the senses and inspire the imagination.
In addition to being able to purchase landscaping material outside, the nursery also features an indoor gift shop with items from local artists and around the world, as well as tools, toys, and wall plaques. Sierra Azul also hosts various events, workshops, receptions and dinners for the community. Admission is free to view the sculptures, stroll the garden, or lounge at the picnic tables. Starting this year, Sierra Azul will also offer visitors a handbook to accompany the Sculpture Is exhibit.