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THE REAL DIRT ON: Barbara Menzies: Shunner of Flowers Stuffed in Milk Bottles

By Susan Krzywicki.

Barbara Menzies and two of her friends were the impetus behind the Stinson Beach wildflower shows that ran from 1958 to 1973. Barbara wrote in the California Horticultural Journal (January 1968):

The Stinson Beach Wildflower Show was started eleven years ago as an innocent and joyful adventure when we were young mothers and housewives with a tremendous interest and enthusiasm for wildflowers. After seeing several shows we realized the need for a different type of exhibit. We were distressed by seeing the poor flowers stuffed into milk bottles, beer cans and dixie cups! We felt that if a flower is picked it should be displayed in the best possible manner...we each drove several hundred miles gathering flowers. We collected our own vases and borrowed special things from friends. Carefully, we arranged each flower and did our best to label them...Maybe a hundred and fifty people saw the first show, but it encouraged us to do it again on a bigger scale, and to charge admission the following year.

Their Method

In fifteen straight years of collecting, they traveled (Anne Leary and Roberta Shockey were her staunch allies) on trips like their 75-mile jaunt from Garberville to Covelo in Mendocino County along Highway 101 and smaller back roads, which yielded the rarely seen California fawn lily (Erythronium californicum), calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) and fields of mission bells (Fritillaria lanceolata) that were three feet tall. Barbara’s shows had over 250 species each and their scientific accuracy was well-respected.

Botanizing and More

Barbara was married to Arthur Menzies, and the two were famed plantspeople. They botanized continuously—finding native plants as well as locating stands of invasive plants that were likely to spread. They reported about an early infestation of licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare) on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais above their home in Stinson Beach. This was in a many-acre healthy sagebrush (Baccharis artemisia) stand that had to be hand-cleared.

Her Life

Born February 1921 in Alameda, Barbara married Arthur Liddell Menzies in September of 1964 in San Francisco. Barbara died in August 1979 in her beloved Mill Valley, Marin, California.

On October 29, 1984, the California Native Plant Society honored the memory of Barbara Menzies at the Audubon Canyon Ranch. A prettily carved bench was installed at Picher Canyon recalling her many years on the great Stinson Beach wildflower show.

A Call to Action

Wildflowers are the springtime gift of the earth. This year’s bloom was meager, but 2017's showy display was a superbloom. Two tasks for you: plant local wildflowers in your garden, and plan to visit some wildflower preserves in 2019. Call the Theodore Payne Wild Flower Hotline next year for sightings: 818-768-1802, ext. 7.

Susan Krzywicki is a native plant landscape designer in San Diego. She was the first horticulture program director for the California Native Plant Society, was the chair of the San Diego Surfrider Foundation Ocean Friendly Gardens Committee, and is on the board of San Diego Canyonlands.

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