If you step onto the gravel-covered paths within the Davis Central Park Gardens, do note that there is a high probability of a sensory explosion.
Split into seven parts by theme, the Central Park Gardens are located in the park parallel to B street and act as a place for Davis residents to relax and enjoy the sights and smells the garden offers.
“We are providing a habitat for birds and insects, but it’s also a refreshing place for people to come to,” said Emily Griswold, Central Park Gardens steering committee chair and director of GATEways horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum. “A lot of people enjoy sitting in the garden to just enjoy the setting.”
The garden is run by a steering committee which is made up of people from the Davis community and “master gardeners” from the Yolo County Master Gardening Program, among other members.
“The goal of the Yolo County Master Gardeners (YCMG) program is to promote adult education in horticulture,” said master gardener and steering committee member Peg Smith. “No site in Davis has a hands-on teaching experience for adults. [The garden] just seemed like an ideal opportunity [for the YCMG to help out with] for its beauty, but predominantly for an outdoor education classroom.”
Smith said that even when there is no one from the steering committee present at the garden, it still serves as an educational spot because of how it is laid out.
“We wanted to start with the bones of what was here already, and build off [of] that foundation,” Griswold said. “[The signs in the garden] provide information about why the plants are here and about the basic themes of the garden.”
Although the steering committee does much of the administrative planning and garden layout, the public, including UC Davis students, are encouraged to participate in garden workdays and workshops every month.
“We provide the tools and the know-how, and we teach people what needs to be done,” Smith said of the programs. “The only thing you need to bring with you is curiosity.”
There are two free garden workdays every month, with the next two scheduled for Saturday and Feb. 16. Some activities include weeding, pruning, planting, path renovation and cleaning up debris.
In addition to the workdays, there are various educational gardening workshops offered at the park as well. Classes range from the basics, like pruning, composting and viniculture, to more advanced topics like growing orchids at home or distilling lavender oil.
“We try to range from basic gardening for the beginner to things that are more esoteric,” Smith said. “We are really cognizant of the fact that it’s a moveable population in Davis. There’s always new people coming in, so we try to do things that someone more advanced would be interested in as well.”
These free workshops are usually offered on one Saturday every month for people of all ages to attend. The next two classes are scheduled for Saturday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. to noon.
Smith said that many nonprofit organizations and UC Davis clubs participate in the programs, providing valuable community service time to the garden.
“UC Davis students have contributed greatly to the garden,” Griswold said. “If there is a student who is really interested in garden education or horticulture, or even marketing or graphic design, we would love to have help from people in those areas.”
One UC Davis-affiliated community service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, has helped out in the garden on many occasions.
“It was definitely one of my more enjoyable service events,” said UC Davis graduate and former Alpha Phi Omega president Aaron Manley. “It makes for a very close experience. [Emily] has proven time and again that she and the gardens are just great.”
However, before the steering committee was established in 2006 and any volunteer efforts began, Griswold said the garden was deteriorating from lack of care.
“In the early ’90s, when they expanded the park, they thought of having gardens,” Griswold said. “The idea from the beginning was to have volunteers take care of it, but there wasn’t really a good system or mechanism to have volunteers engaged for a long time.”
Griswold thought it would be easy to get volunteers for the effort because of how many visitors Central Park gets every week.
“The plantings were not being very well cared for and the garden just wasn’t being loved,” Griswold said. “You can’t just call a garden finished. Plants die, and if you don’t replant, the garden just starts to empty out.”
After getting permission from the City of Davis for the creation of a volunteer group, the steering committee began to meet monthly to discuss changes to the garden, plant maintenance and budgeting. Since then, the garden has been flourishing.
“Everything we teach is taught from an ecological point of view. Composting, irrigation and putting the right plant in the right place,” Smith said. “If people learn how to do this in one place, they can transport that knowledge wherever they go and be successful.”
Manley said he believes student community service work is important because it helps people connect to the community around them and see the places and things that bring people together.
“Taking care of the garden is important for the idea of environmental stewardship and for keeping that public space open to people,” Manley said. “It may not seem like it directly affects something, but the very aspect of a person giving their time to the community is indicative of the culture that we live in.”
For UC Davis students specifically, Griswold believes that volunteering at the garden can be a stress reliever amid school work.
“Doing physical work in the garden and seeing a tangible result from your effort is a rewarding break from all the studying and brain work associated with being a student,” Griswold said. “Many people find gardening to be a meditative release from other stressors in their lives.”
To Griswold and Smith, the reasons to be involved in the garden are endless, whether it be interacting with people of different ages and backgrounds or contributing to an environmentally-friendly project.
“If you are growing anything, you are a custodian of the earth,” Smith said. “What students learn here, they can take to their own gardens, and if you can do that ecologically, then it’s a great thing to give someone to take with them for the rest of their lives.”
For more information about the Central Park Gardens and for a detailed schedule of garden events, visit centralparkgardens.org.
RITIKA IYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.