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The Muckenthaler’s new ‘Sunset Garden’ is heaven on earth

Visitors walk through the new "Sunset Garden" on Tuesday at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Marsha Judd strolled the grounds of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton months ago during the pandemic. An artist in residence, she was tasked with coming up with ideas on how to transform a barren patch of land near the west end into something people could safely enjoy.

Suddenly, an age-old inspiration arrested her attention as she gazed upwards at a beautiful sunset.

Judd wasn’t alone; families that gathered at the “Muck” did the same. Next, they all looked at each other. The moment struck her. Judd finally found a concept for a new garden, one that would imitate the stunning color palette of a sunset for the community.

“It was the idea of visually melding the two,” Judd said. “What if we could bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven?”

Fortunately, the Muck counted Chris Barnhill, a horticulturalist who previously worked at Disneyland and the Fullerton Arboretum, as its board president. He opted for drought resistant grass varieties that would create a garden that’s both water-responsible and faithful to its muse.

“This corner of the Muckenthaler had been long neglected and part of the neglect is just not being able to afford the time to irrigate the space,” Barnhill said. “Now, think of this garden as an impressionistic look at a sunset.”

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva speaks during a dedication ceremony for the new "Sunset Garden."
Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva speaks during a dedication ceremony on Tuesday for the new “Sunset Garden” at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

To complete that aesthetic, the grounds of the future “Sunset Garden” were tended to four months ago as if a blank canvass. That’s when Festuca, Leymus and Muhly grasses were planted over an area that’s about a third of an acre. Now the garden shimmers with shades of blue, pink, purple, gold and white.

“As these all grow together, they will look like the bands of color that you see in the sunset itself,” said Judd.

The Muck hosted a formal dedication ceremony for the Sunset Garden on Tuesday morning and invited people to take inaugural strolls through its splendors afterward.

“It takes a village to raise a garden,” said Farrell Hirsch, CEO of the Muck, at the dedication. “It takes that same sort of village to put anything artistic together.”

Hirsch acknowledged the contributions of volunteers, numbering between 150 and 200, who pulled weeds and helped transform the dirt into a dusk-inspired trail. The Sunset Garden also features sculpture art by Trace Fukahara and a permanent mural by Carla Roque, a Fullerton artist.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) attended the dedication and spoke briefly about her role in securing a $25,000 state grant for the garden project.

“I just put in the request, but it’s your taxpayer dollars that pay for these grants,” Quirk-Silva told the crowd. “I can see people bringing takeout for a picnic, just sitting up here and enjoying that sunset.”

Like the Muck’s grounds, the Sunset Garden is free and open to the public.

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