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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

If there’s one thing I know after sniffing, scratching, and digging (when the groundskeepers aren’t looking) around Balboa Park all these years, it’s gardens. And not just any garden, but award-winning historically significant gardens.

Garden Party of the Century, view of lily pondAccordingly, my tail couldn’t be wagging more over the fact that in order to properly celebrate Balboa Park’s Centennial, the City of San Diego has collaborated with a number of local cultural and floral organizations to present the Garden Party of the Century.

On Saturday, May 9, from 9:30am to 5pm, park visitors (and their pooches) will be transported to an era before 24-hour home and garden TV channels, when communities would gather together to celebrate spring’s bounty and share their latest gardening successes, tips, food, music, and conversation.

Early birds will be rewarded for setting their cell phone alarms when a Kids Floral Wagon Parade gets the party rolling at 9:30am sharp. The parade of pups pulling wagons runs from the Spanish Village Art Center, down the El Prado walkway, and finishes in the Plaza de Panama. This is followed at 11:30am by a commemorative plant exchange and march across the Cabrillo Bridge by the US Marine Corps — a re-enactment of a similar march that took place in 1915.

Filling out the day will be the fragrant San Diego Floral Show in the Balboa Park Club, demonstrations by plein air painters and master gardeners, tours of Balboa Park’s famous gardens in full bloom, dozens of vendor and activity booths, and live entertainment. And of course no 21st-century garden party would be complete without food trucks!

If you can’t be bugged about coming to the Garden Party of the Century, at least take note that capping off the day will be a free concert by the Youth Orchestra of the Californias, from 4 to 5pm, in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The region’s only binational youth orchestra (consisting of members of the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra and Tijuana’s music conservatory, Centro de Artes Musicales) will celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a performance of works by Mexican composers.

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Riesling writes: Dear Cosmos, My family appreciates your efforts to keep them informed of all the great Centennial Celebration activities in Balboa Park, but speaking perro a perro, I’m still wondering what’s in it for just us pooches?

Cosmos: Though sadly I have yet to see a special exhibition or event titled “100 Years of Dogs in Balboa Park” or “Canine Memorabilia from the 1915 & 1935 Expositions” on the official Celebrate Balboa Park website, there are a couple of activities coming up this week that all dogs worth their snout should mark on their calendar. The programs kick off a two-week-long series of garden-themed activities, culminating in the Garden Party of the Century on May 9.

The first is a very special Arbor Day celebration on Friday, April 24, at the War Memorial Building from 10am to 12pm. If you’ve never seen the classic Snoopy cartoon It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown, you probably should know that Arbor Day is an internationally observed holiday focused on the planting and care of trees.

Now that I have your undivided attention, it’s worth noting Balboa Park’s first Arbor Day celebration was, not surprisingly, organized by the Mother of Balboa Park herself, Kate Sessions, back in 1904. On that day, Sessions, along with 3,500 schoolchildren, planted 60 pine and cypress trees, many of which I’m sure are still around for our, ahem, benefit.

Keeping the tradition, the Friends of Balboa Park hold an annual ceremony where hundreds of pups are let out of obedience school for one day to grab a shovel and plant even more trees. This year’s Arbor Day event adds 12 new American Tulip trees to the walkway leading up to the War Memorial Building.

The following day, April 25, knowledgeable volunteers will offer special tours of my second favorite West Mesa hangout (after Nate Point’s Dog Park, of course), the Trees for Health Garden, from 11am to 3pm. This will be a great way to learn the other valuable uses for trees that us dogs often overlook as we go about our business. 

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I must admit, I’m having a little trouble wrapping my tail around the trendy concept of “activated spaces.” As a canine, activating a space is a rather simple process, mostly a matter of bladder control.

However, I’m certain when the largest open space on Balboa Park’s Central Mesa, the Plaza de Panama, becomes officially “activated” on Wednesday, April 22, from 12 noon to 4pm, I’ll gain a new appreciation for the buzzword’s meaning.

After all, at 1pm, San Diego’s top dog himself, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, will be on hand to do the honors of unveiling the magical transformation of the former parking lot bordered by The San Diego Museum of Art, the Timken Museum of Art, the House of Charm, and the House of Hospitality.

To experience just what an activated space is all about that afternoon, the public is invited to enjoy special hands-on activities hosted by various Balboa Park cultural organizations, performances by San Diego Civic Dance Arts, and more importantly, eminently edible chow from popular food trucks, Chop Soo-ey and Tacos La Mezcla.

Attendees at the special event will also be among the first to break in the Plaza’s new amenities, which include additional tables and chairs, umbrellas, benches, games, and an “outdoor living room” and lawn for lounging. And while they are doing so, they might want to thank Southwest Airlines and the Project for Public Spaces, The San Diego Foundation, and the Balboa Park Conservancy for making it all possible.

I’m sure once I get a whiff of what a vibrant gathering space in the heart of the nation’s largest urban cultural park is, it will quickly become my favorite hangout for free Wi-Fi, unsolicited petting, and food scraps galore!

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During my first years of writing this blog, I couldn’t wait until spring and the return of the free Sunday afternoon lawn programs at the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages in Balboa Park. From March through October, 32 different cultures would take turns hosting a cultural festival, featuring traditional music and dance, colorful costumes, and enough delectable food to hold me over until … well, dinnertime.

Such a limited schedule, however, begged the obvious question, “What about November through February?" And for dogsake, "What about Saturday?!”

It seems my years of hounding the good folks who run the various international houses is starting to pay off, as each passing year has seen the emergence of a welcome new trend: more programs, not only during “off season” months, but on Saturdays as well.

Take this weekend, for example. The House of England, which is hosting its annual Sunday lawn program on April 12 in celebration St. George’s Day, is also presenting an English Village Fete on Saturday, April 11, from 12 noon to 4pm.

What does that mean in practical terms? More bangers and mash, more shepherd’s pie, more costumed bobbies and beefeaters, and more entertainment fit for a king, including performances by the Moreton Bay Fig Dancers and Shakespeare-inspired fun with my favorite dog-friendly verbavore, Richard Lederer.

Looking ahead at the 2015 Lawn Program schedule, I see that these double-header weekends, when a Saturday festival precedes a Sunday lawn program, are becoming the new normal. Now if they would only extend the lawn programs to Monday through Friday, I could lick my weekday withdrawal symptoms for good! 

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Even though it’s strange to talk about spring when San Diego never got a winter, that doesn’t change the fact that families are now faced with a house full of pups suffering from spring fever for two entire weeks. This is particularly a problem when the tried-and-true “cures” (going to the beach, the mall, or the movies) become less effective at bringing down excessive levels of yapping (i.e., complaining).

Thanks in part to the 2015 Centennial celebrations in Balboa Park, there is no shortage of cool things for your little hot dogs to sink their teeth into during spring break:

  1. Perception: See Beyond the Illusion with Jason Latimer — Back by popular demand, because it’s just that cool, the World Champion of Magic continues to leave audiences barking for more at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.
  2. The White Snake — This enchanting theatrical spectacle for the entire litter at the Old Globe tells the classic Chinese fable of a gentle serpent that transformsinto a beautiful woman and is as cool as it sounds.
  3. The Sleeping Beauty — If any production can convince your little cynics that ballet is cool, this professionally staged performance of the timeless tale by the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet is the one.
  4. 7 Billion Others — A groundbreaking multimedia display at the Museum of Photographic Arts featuring 6,000 interviews from 84 countries in 50 different languages — sounds pretty cool to me.
  5. Raphael, Madonna of the Pinks — This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the Timken Museum of Art to see a masterwork by the great Renaissance painter without travelling to Europe is the definition of cool. Did I mention admission is free?
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