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A garden cultivates the mind and feeds the soul

A garden cultivates the mind and feeds the soul
Elspeth Bobbs, La Querencia, Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico

By: Almut Wolf

Elspeth Bobbs treasured gardens. She devoted her life to horticulture and botany, and she enthusiastically shared her passion for plants far and wide. She died in 2019, having lived nearly 100 years.

Through a planned gift to the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Bobbs will help sustain it as an outdoor classroom that teaches through plants, even on subjects unrelated to flora: from economics to science, spirituality to emotion, and certainly the satisfaction of enjoying the results of hard work.

Since the 1980s, when she first began her regular visits to the Arboretum, Bobbs had been a dedicated supporter. Her planned gift culminates that passionate relationship.

"It was an important aspect for Bobbs to support student workers and give them the opportunity, not only to learn about research and botany, but also to be able to support themselves going through college," said Stephen McCabe, emeritus director of research at the Arboretum.

From Old World to New Mexico

Elspeth G. Bobbs was born in Devonshire County, England. She began losing her hearing at a young age, and was deaf by the age of 20. That did not prevent her from pursuing any endeavor that was of interest to her. She mastered lip reading and studied law at Oxford University.

During World War II, she moved to the United States with her parents. Her father was a native San Franciscan, but Bobbs was drawn to New Mexico, inspired by the essays of Mabel Dodge Lujan describing the southwestern culture and arid climate. When she visited Santa Fe in 1943, she soon fell in love, both with the town and the artist Howard Bobbs.

Howard and Elspeth married and had three daughters, Norrie, Sheila, and Mariel. They established an independent bookstore in Santa Fe called The Book Specialist. In 1967, they purchased a four-acre property on Canyon Road before it became the city's renowned district for art galleries. They named the property La Querencia, "The Beloved Place."

After Howard's passing in 1984, Bobbs poured her energy into developing the garden, a way of filling the creative void he left behind. Today, Bobbs's garden at La Querencia is a recognized landmark, replete with contemporary art sculptures she commissioned from various artists.

La Querencia features an herb garden, a flower garden, and, true to her English upbringing, a rose garden. Bobbs also pioneered organic farming in Santa Fe and was particularly interested in UC Santa Cruz's pioneering advances in the field.

Elspeth Bobbs, Norrie's Gift Shop Arboretum. Courtesy of Stephen McCabe

Much of the produce from Bobbs's garden was given to Kitchen Angels, a local Santa Fe nonprofit that provides free, nutritious meals to homebound neighbors facing life-challenging conditions. She was deeply committed to a variety of causes and was recognized in 1999 as New Mexico's philanthropist of the year.

A humorist, a philanthropist, and a good friend

Bobbs traveled to Carmel every year to meet her cousin from England. Together they visited the Arboretum and Botanic Gardens and encountered its unique collection of rare and threatened plant species from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and California. Bobbs was a frequent guest of Dean McHenry, founding Chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, and became good friends with Harry Beevers, the English physiologist, and his wife Jean, sharing a common interest in the cultivation of the Arboretum.

Friends appreciated Bobbs's sense of humor, her love of the written word, and her concern for others. Her first contact with McCabe included a geologist's quip about the ancient supercontinent that broke up 180 million years ago.

In 1985, McCabe had just started his directorship at the Arboretum when he opened a letter from Bobbs inquiring whether he might have a bumper sticker that read "Reunite Gondwanaland." Bobbs enjoyed her own joke immensely.

Bobbs invited McCabe to her 95th birthday party in Santa Fe. On a walk through the garden with him, Bobbs pointed to a ceramic pie hanging from an apricot tree and said, "What do you think that is? Well, that's the pie in the sky!"

McCabe reminisced: "She was really sharp. She was smart and funny up until the end."

Elspeth Bobbs' 95th birthday, with daughters Sheila and Mariel. Courtesy of Stephen McCabe

Norrie's Gift Shop

Bobbs subscribed to the philosophy of, "Give a person a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a person how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime." She knew a gift shop would bring the Arboretum a steady income from plant sales and public events. She also envisioned the gift shop as a gathering space appealing to nature enthusiasts from the local and campus communities. In 1994, Bobbs funded the construction of Norrie's Gift Shop, named after her daughter, who had died at a young age in an automobile accident.

Recently, Bobbs's charitable trust provided much-needed renovations for Norrie's Gift Shop, as well as for site maps and garden signage to improve the visitor experience.

"We are taking advantage of the pandemic closure to reorganize, paint the inside [of Norrie's Gift Shop], and extend the outdoor plant sales area," explained Martin Quigley, executive director of the Arboretum.

The Arboretum staff invites the community to visit, learn, and socialize outside in the Arboretum and Botanic Garden while COVID-19 restrictions are in place.

The gift that keeps on giving

Bobbs's bequest is a gift of conservation, creativity, and commitment to a worthy cause, but in practical terms, the funds are instrumental in keeping student workers on the payroll. Her gift is in the form of a charitable remainder trust, a fund that pays an income, then transfers the remaining funds to a charity at the income beneficiary's passing.

The Arboretum is open for visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Very soon, when restrictions are lifted, visitors will be able to enjoy the renovated space in Norrie's Gift Shop as well.


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