Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: A Cultural Oasis in Southwest Berkeley

By Ron Sullivan
Friday October 19, 2007

I took it as a Sign when the postcard came to the surface last week as I was attempting to get the paper stack on the office floor into order: a postcard appeared on the surface. I’d probably picked it up at the big fat garden show in the Cow Palace last month. “Gardensia: Archipelago Designs” with a southwest Berkeley address.  

It’s in one of very few such neighborhoods we have left in town, part warehouses and the sort of activity that lands between art and manufacture, part homes in various states of overgrowth and gentrification, and an actual vacant lot or two. Very quiet on a football weekend. 

Joe and I were greeted in the best possible retail manner by Sekti Artanegara and Lisa Ho and, eventually, their engaging small daughter. By “best” I mean they allowed us to mosey around for a few minutes with just a “Let us know if you’d like help,” and a decent interval of privacy with their wonderful collection of artifacts.  

Ms. Ho appeared at my elbow just in time to answer the questions we’d accumulated. We’d seen lots of familiar South Asian Buddhas (including one with a bright lei) and stone dewis and frogs but were stopped cold before several wooden doors with wonderful carvings, including a small one fronted by a man rampant atop a water buffalo’s head and holding a rooster.  

No mistaking what that is about, and indeed it’s from a granary and is one of several fertility wishes gathered in the shop. If I were of childbearing age I’d’ve doubled my protection after the visit.  

There are enough Indonesian spirit houses from birdhouse-sized to over six feet and two stories tall, the latter with imposing toupees of black palm fiber and maybe a gilded crest on top. There are carved housepoles and demon guardians—I’m heading there if there’s a quake, as it must be the safest place in town—and crests from Dayak, Timorese, and other rarely seen cultures of the Indonesian archipelago and its neighbors.  

Joe likes the Dayak sculptures with hornbill motifs: “Hornbills, large-ish tropical birds, usually sport bony casques above their beaks, carved as “hornbill ivory.” Only Dayak warriors who had taken a head were allowed to wear hornbill-ivory earrings. 

“The Iban Hornbill Festival used to precede headhunting raids; nowadays it’s held during the rice harvest. Hornbills transport the souls of the Iban dead to heaven. The Barito Dayak group see the rhinoceros hornbill as the upperworld god who, collaborating with the underworld dragon, created of the Tree of Life. 

“Hornbills are known for their unorthodox nesting behavior. A female walls herself into a tree cavity with mud and other substances, leaving only a narrow slit to receive food from her mate, and stays there until her offspring are ready to fledge. I don’t know what the Dayaks made of that, if anything. Caution: this is not a metaphor. Just a bird.” 

I like the natural sculptures—polished freestanding lianas, tree-root bowls, and wonderfully eroded teak railroad ties stood on end.  

Evidently most of Gardenisia’s customers are landscapers and architects. Why let them keep it a secret? Go visit! 



Gardenisia: Archipelago Designs 

2820—A 8th Street, Berkeley 



11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily