SAN DIEGO, Calif. — In a garden with roughly the square footage of a two-car garage, the University of California Master Gardeners and County of San Diego staff have packed a whole lot of learning for the community.
The demonstration garden, which had its grand opening last fall, is now flourishing in its 20-by-20-foot space in a plaza at the heart of the San Diego County Operations Center. Skilled volunteers with San Diego’s UC Master Gardeners, a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, maintain its containers of vegetables and herbs, succulents, and native and pollinator plants.
“For such a little garden, there’s a lot to look at,” said Karen Morse, a Master Gardener volunteer who helped establish the “demo garden” – a highly visible and accessible teaching tool for the many people who work and conduct business in the surrounding offices.
“We get questions from people just walking by – from the public, from county employees – all the time,” said Leah Taylor, UC Master Gardener program coordinator in San Diego County. “While we’re doing what we’re doing in the garden, we’re a presence for people to just get a quick bite of education.”
The garden also features a “Little Free Library” of gardening books, as well as a compost bin and rain barrel for demonstration purposes. There are also signs (in English and Spanish, as well as additional languages on the garden’s website) offering tips on composting/worm composting, pest management, water conservation, climate adaptation, sustainability practices, and health and nutrition. The expertise of a host of county departments and agencies inform the resources.
“The most beautiful thing about that garden is not necessarily the plants – although we love our plants – it’s that it showcases almost every county department…all represented in one place and you can find how to connect with those groups, all in one place,” Taylor explained.
During planning for a broader revamp of the Operations Center grounds, the county had approached the Master Gardeners to provide guidance on a public demo garden.
“The County has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and partnership with the University of California Cooperative Extension,” said Rebeca Appel, program manager for the county’s Land Use and Environment Group, which spearheaded the effort through the “Live Well San Diego” Food System Initiative. “So it was a natural approach to work with the Master Gardeners with their robust community garden program, and educational outreach in home and urban gardening throughout our region.”
The vision for the garden was shaped by county teams working with Joan Martin and Ellen Cadwallader, co-chairs of the Master Gardener committee that oversees the program’s demonstration gardens across San Diego County, including those at Balboa Park and The Flower Fields in Carlsbad.
And while those gardens help raise awareness among the many visitors at those sites, Martin said the newest demo garden provides unique opportunities for ongoing community education, such as lunch-and-learns on specific gardening topics.
“This is the garden where there’s really a chance for year-round education and sessions,” Martin said. “We’re excited to see it get started and watch it grow.”
Morse and fellow Master Gardener Sandy Main collaborated with Appel to bring those early plans and objectives to verdant life.
“I think we ticked all the boxes of everything they wanted, initially – examples of container gardening, natives, vegetables, herbs, pollinators – and wheelchair accessible,” Morse said.
They have since passed the botanical baton to Skye Resendes, a relatively recent graduate of the Master Gardener certification program. She will coordinate a team of a dozen volunteers in the ongoing upkeep of the County Operations Center demo garden.
Resendes, who uses gardening to help her cope with the stresses of her work as a civil litigator, said she hopes the garden will not only inform the community on crucial ecological and conservation topics but also inspire more people to start their own gardens.
“The science is out there – there are huge mental health benefits to gardening,” Resendes said. “It’s an absolute meditation.”
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 California counties. Through research and Cooperative Extension in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, economic and youth development, our mission is to improve the lives of all Californians. Learn more at ucanr.edu and support our work at donate.ucanr.edu.
–UC Agriculture and Natural Resources