Petaluma Library Demonstration Garden
HEY KIDS, LET’S PUT ON A PLAY IN THE OLD BARN!
By Leslie Goodrich, Sonoma County Master Gardener
“Yuck, Mommy,” said the little girl, pointing to a large white egret snatching a whole gopher from its hole. I agreed with her. Who wants to see a cigarette strewn, weedy half lawn with gopher-eating birds as you enter a library?
…people had talked about doing something for years…nothing ever came of it…there was no money…the city maintenance staff was overworked… vandals would wreck anything planted…on and on.
“But I want to do something. Make it pretty,” I protested. He smiled and said, ‘Write me a letter and start something happening.”
What could I do alone? Being new to Petaluma, I knew very few people. There was no money and no support group. People had thought about taking out the lawn before, and they’d given up in frustration.
But I remembered watching television re-runs of old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movies from the 1930’s. Mickey or Judy would get the idea to put on a musical, their mothers would make the costumes, and the two, plus all their friends and the behind the scenes help of movie studio employees, would save Judge Stone’s friend’s farm or some such thing.
I had the support of the entire library staff, and I was a Sonoma County Master Gardener. The MGs were better than a movie studio. They’d already planned two demonstration gardens - one at Jail Industries in Santa Rosa and one at the community center in the City of Sonoma. They knew how to plan and they knew how to work together.
Out of the blue, Daily Acts, a local nonprofit concerned with sustainable living, contacted the Petaluma Library and asked if they could sheet mulch the scruffy lawn. Enthusiastically, the library staff agreed, and the lawn and egrets disappeared. Now we could start planning!
During the summer, Kate Keaton and other library staff, asked for public comment on what they wanted to see and how they wanted the now grass-free area used. Everyone wanted a garden - something pretty.
From October until December 2010, a group of Master Gardeners met twice each month to create a design in keeping with the public comments. The Master Gardeners took into consideration paths big enough to accommodate wheelchairs, permanent seating areas for relaxing and reading and a children’s garden space. The public wanted raised beds. They also wanted veggies grown for and given to the Petaluma Kitchen. They wanted drought tolerant/native shrubs, and fruit trees. From previous Master Gardener demonstration gardens, the MGs knew the design plan had to be low maintenance. The MGs could make the plan, but implementation and monthly maintenance would be up to volunteers.
All the ’kids’ meaning the city, library staff, library patrons, Petaluma businesses and civic organizations did what they could.
By January 2011, volunteers had planted three veggie beds, bare root fruit trees were planted, an herb garden filled another mounded bed, and perennial, drought tolerant shrubs dotted the entire garden. By May, veggies were being donated to the Petaluma Kitchen, and June through July saw a children’s gardening group meeting every Thursday at 11:30 am. No vandals came, no veggies were stolen, no graffiti appeared on the wooden benches.
By the end of summer, the garden had a name - ‘The Garden of Reading’ picked out of 36 names submitted to the library in a contest they ran.
In less than a year, the ‘Garden of Reading‘ went from paper to reality. Anyone, any group can take a neglected area of grass or dirt and create something beautiful.
The key to success? Don’t listen when people say it can’t be done. Just do it. Have a written plan. Ask everyone you know for help, supplies and dollars! Remember Master Gardeners can help plan and design great demonstration gardens.
Think of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. You don’t even have to know how to dance or sing!