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Under the Chinaberry Tree

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Monday, April 8
Fran Houser Adrian Midway Cafe
Tuesday, April 9
Peter Avila San Benito Conjunto Museum
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Thursday, April 11
Dorinda Millan Pecos Museum
Friday, April 12
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In Print: On News Stands Now


by Tumbleweed Smith

In April we made our second trip to Legoland with our California grandkids. The first time we left the motel on the way to the amusement park, we topped a hill and saw a sight that I had only seen in magazines: the flower fields of Carlsbad, California. Perhaps you've seen them, too, in pictures. If you're lucky, you've seen them in person.

When I saw them they almost took my breath away. Wide stripes of red, yellow pink, maroon and white with a foreground of multi colored flowers form a fifty-acre hillside rainbow. I knew the spectacular display was in California but didn't know it was in Carlsbad. Apparently the first time we went to Legoland the flowers were not in bloom. The season is way too short, just ten weeks from March to early May. As we rounded a corner, I looked over and saw a giant American flag made of flowers. After a day at Legoland, we picked fresh strawberries from a large field adjacent to the flowers.

One of my favorite things to do is take pictures of blooming flowers. I've done that this spring in the Texas Hill Country, which is having its best wildflower year this century. I've also photographed tulips at Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, the ultimate in natural beauty. In my way of thinking, the Flower Fields in Carlsbad are the closest thing to Keukenhof. In fact, the flower fields' landmark is a giant Dutch style windmill.

We got an overall view of the flowers aboard an open wagon pulled by an antique tractor. After the ride we left the grandkids with their parents and spent some time wondering around the place. It is one of Southern California's largest attractions (www.theflowerfields.com).

The fields have been evolving for nearly 100 years. An early horticulturist named Luther Gage settled in the area in the early 1920's and planted some English ranunculus seeds next to a vegetable farm owned by Frank Frazee. Mr. Gage and Mr. Frazee set up a business named "Luther Gage Giant Tecolote Ranuculus Bulbs." Tecolote is a Spanish word for a type of owl that grew on the property.

Frank Frazee's son Edwin got involved with the business while a teenager and expanded the acreage and types of ranuculus. Originally the flowers were single petal and ranged in shades of red and yellow. Edwin's continual breeding of seeds resulted in thirteen colors including picotee, a mixture of variegated colors. His success at breeding a superior ranuculus bulb made him the only commercial ranuculus grower in the United States. Frazee also became an expert at growing gladiolas and the brightly colored fields became a point of interest to visitors passing by on the highway linking Los Angeles and San Diego. It quickly brought photographers from National Geographic and that brought in tons of tourists.

The complex, now owned by Paul Ecke Jr., grows several types of flowers and is dedicated to preservation, so the flower fields, like the strawberry fields, will continue to be a national jewel for future generations.

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