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Work begins on fantasy garden attraction in Paso — and part of it could open next year

The Garden of the Mind is one of the themed areas at Sensorio, a garden and art attraction planned for Highway 46 East in Paso Robles. Developer Ken Hunter recently began grading work at the site and plans to install a temporary art display while he continues to acquire the necessary permits for his project.
The Garden of the Mind is one of the themed areas at Sensorio, a garden and art attraction planned for Highway 46 East in Paso Robles. Developer Ken Hunter recently began grading work at the site and plans to install a temporary art display while he continues to acquire the necessary permits for his project.

Work on a long-awaited garden attraction in Paso Robles is finally underway — and a portion of it could open as soon as next spring.

Last month, grading began at Sensorio, an elaborate garden and art attraction formerly known as Discovery Gardens, located on Highway 46 East between Airport and Dry Creek roads. The project is reminiscent of the famed Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia.

Ken Hunter — a co-owner of Hunter Ranch Golf Course, also on Highway 46 East — has been planning the project for years. The development is also to include a hotel and conference center. It was last approved by the Planning Commission in 2014.

The gardens, which would include a maze, waterfall, and interactive elements, replaced earlier plans for a 27-hole golf course that was originally approved as part of a previous Black Ranch Resort development.

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A site plan for the Sensorio garden attraction and an accompanying hotel and conference center. Developer Ken Hunter is planning a temporary art installation for the property, which will be installed next year and open to the public in the spring. City of Paso Robles

Hunter told The Tribune in 2014 that he purchased the 386-acre property for about $4 million from hotelier King Ventures in a foreclosure sale.

The development would make use of water from already-existing wells on the property and would require less water than the previously proposed golf course, said Susan DeCarli, a city planner.

The project has been on hold while Hunter has been in the process of obtaining permits. While he still needs additional permissions to complete the development, he now has the major ones in hand, he said.

The project will be developed in phases, with the hotel and conference center to be part of the final stage, Hunter said.

Starting this winter, crews will begin revegetating a portion of the property. In the spring, a Field of Light installation by artist Bruce Munro will go on display.

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The Field of Light installation on display in 2014 at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia. Bruce Munro

The Field of Light, which features an array of multicolored flower-like lights, has been installed at sites around the world, including several spots in the United States.

Hunter hopes to open the art installation in May, complete with food trucks and temporary tents to provide visitors with refreshments. The Field of Light is a temporary piece of art and will be on display for two years, he said.

“We’re very fortunate to have this caliber of art installation,” DeCarli said.

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Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden
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