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Flower 'quilt' becomes living tribute to Sojourner Truth

Designed by artist Jane Ingram Allen, the planted flower bed has a woven "headboard." The quilt, based on the "North Star" block, is composed of handmade paper embedded with seeds. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Filled with symbolism, art project debuts in Sacramento park

A flower “bed” covered with a living “quilt” of wildflowers is now planted in Sojourner Truth Park in Sacramento’s Pocket/Greenhaven neighborhood.

Jane Ingram Allen, a Santa Rosa-based artist with a worldwide following, created the evocative project as part of a city program to bring art projects to all sections of Sacramento, often using park sites as canvases.

Flower bed before planting
White paper strips filled with wildflower seeds outline the
quilt square spaces. The head and foot boards are woven
mulberry canes and grapevine.

“I’m putting a quilt down to cover the Earth,” Allen explained as she readied her planting squares. “It will change over time. Nature will control it.”

Allen has made paper-based art projects around the globe. (See examples at .) Last year, she created a project for another Sacramento park in Natomas.

For this installation, Allen was inspired by the park’s namesake, Sojourner Truth, a former slave, abolitionist and suffragist. The artist chose the “North Star” quilt pattern because of its meaning to freed slaves.

“The North Star was part of the secret code for escaping slaves,” Allen explained. “If they saw this quilt hanging outdoors, they knew which way was north — the way to freedom.”

There’s more symbolism: The North Star (in the sky, not on a bed) can guide anyone during a journey or challenging times – such as the current COVID crisis.

After nearly a year of planning and working with pandemic restrictions, Allen’s project debuted Saturday, Nov. 21, with an official (socially distanced) dedication and planting ceremony. Titled “Living Quilt for Sojourner Truth,” the art project is next to the community garden near the park, Robbie Waters Pocket-Greenhaven Library and the School of Engineering and Sciences.

“This area was always weedy; we couldn’t cut the grass,” noted Bill Maynard, Sacramento’s community gardens coordinator. “This idea is really cool.”

Mayor Steinberg
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg puts one of the
squares in the flower "bed" during the Nov. 21 ceremony.

Maynard and his city parks crew cleared the sloped space, installed irrigation, spread wood chips and planted surrounding landscaping.

Allen, who has family in Sacramento, recruited local basketmakers to create the headboard and footboard for her flower “bed.” Members of the Sacramento Weavers and Spinners Guild used mulberry canes and grapevines to shape the whimsical bed frame, which will double as trellises for sweet peas.

For the quilt blocks and strips, Allen made paper, studded with wildflower seeds. The flower color matches the red, blue, yellow and white used in the blocks. The white strips are planted with sweet alyssum, baby’s breath and white poppies. Blue spaces will be lupine and bluebonnets. Yellow squares will sprout California poppies, tidytips and golden cosmos. Red poppies and sage complete the color blocking.

Recycled materials were used for the paper, including denim jeans for the blue.

“This is all natural,” Allen said of the blocks. “It will just go back into the soil.”

Allen likes the combination of crafts and interests tied into her art project. Besides the history and symbolism of the design, the project features papermaking, basketry, quilting and, of course, gardening.

“Whether the world is ready or not, it’s time to sew — and sow,” she quipped.

During Saturday’s dedication ceremony, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Councilman Rick Jennings were on hand to help “plant” the bed. Wooden skewers topped with wine corks were used to secure the quilt panels in place.

“It’s wonderful to be out here on a beautiful fall day, especially during 2020,” said Steinberg, wearing a face mask. “To get outside and celebrate a community gift, it is a blessing.”

Now, all this art needs is rain.

“It should sprout by the first of the year,” Allen noted. “We’ll see the first flowers in March, and hopefully it will bloom all summer. Some flowers will even come back again and again.

“With time, the color pattern will become very abstract,” she added. “That’s nature’s way.”


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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