New teaching garden opens at the library

The Winters Community Library Teaching Garden’s first free class will take place this Saturday, Sept. 7 at 9:30 a.m. The class will focus on planting a winter garden.
Emma Johnson/Winters Express

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Native shrubs, flowering plants and grasses all stand at roughly knee-height in the Winters Community Library Teaching Garden, located on the southern side of the library. The physical work of creating the teaching garden, which opened to the public in late August, began this past January. This involved digging up the old irrigation system with all of its many pieces, taking out two redwood trees and planting starts that came from local nurseries, the UC Davis Arboretum, Lowes and personal gardens.

But before that laborious process could even begin the project had to be arranged and approved by a series of city and county agencies. The teaching garden doesn’t take up much real estate, but it sits in a sliver of property that falls under the jurisdiction of both the Yolo County Library and the Winters Joint Unified School District (WJUSD). The two agencies were able to come to an agreement on the usage of the space that put the Master Gardener Program in charge of running the space as a community educational garden.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Regents of the University of California (working on behalf of its Cooperative Extension Capitol Corridor, which operates the Master Gardener Program), the Yolo County Library and WJUSD, the library is responsible for the landscape maintenance services and the district must acknowledge the use of the property as described in the MOU.

This leaves the Master Gardeners to run the garden, where, according to the MOU, they are obligated to provide learning opportunities for members of the community and local school groups, as well as create a space where, “visitors can sit and enjoy the garden.”

Other agencies involved included the City of Winters, which provided some of the funding and materials for the garden, and the Winters Friends of the Library (WFoL), who donated funds to establish the garden.

Stephanie Myers is a master gardener and one of the designers of the teaching garden. Myers says that Carol Scianna, who chaired the project for WFoL, got her involved with the endeavor. In the past couple years she and fellow master gardener Anne Scott have designed the layout for the teaching garden and the plants in Grant Avenue round-about. Myers says that of the two spaces, the round-about was much easier.

It was also a very different project. Unlike the round-about, the new garden is required to be a space for community edification and education. For now, those opportunities are guaranteed in free gardening classes on the first Saturday of every month (except for December and January). The garden’s first class will be held this weekend on Saturday, Sept. 7, and will focus on planting a winter garden.

Outside of class times, Myers says that visitors can get a passive education just by looking at the plants the gardeners have selected. Following the model at the UC Davis Arboretum, the designers tried to hit three bullet points when selecting plants: Those with low water needs, that support pollinators and are California natives.

Soon visitors will be able to learn about the plants and their benefits to the garden on display stands donated by the UC Davis Arboretum with help from Diane Cary.

Contributions of expertise and time from community members like Cary and local experts have been key to bringing the master gardeners’ vision to fruition.

Among them were Patrick Riley, who dug out the two redwoods with the help of a few volunteers, and Pierre Neu, who built the rocket bat box that stands at the eastern end of the garden. Rachel Long, who serves as the farm advisor for field crops and pest management for the master gardeners, was consulted on the location of the bat box. In 2006 Long co-authored a paper on the best practices of bat box placement in the Central Valley.

Myers expects Mexican freetail bats to roost in the box, and has seen evidence of the larger hoary bats living in the oak tree on the western end of the garden. These species will be some of the many pollinators she expects to be utilizing the garden. Already the dwarf butterfly bush is flowering and the Western redbud’s leaves are showing evidence of leaf-cutter bees.

Myers and Scott designed the garden to have overlapping blooming seasons, so that there would always be something for the native pollinators. Plants like Australian fuchsia will bloom in the winter months, and support the species of hummingbird that lives in Yolo County year-round.

The plants are also benefiting from the change in the seasons. Most of them were planted in the spring, and Myers is impressed to see how well they weathered the summer. She is hoping that they will fare even better after the winter rains.

The official open house for the teaching garden will be held on Oct. 12 from 1-5 p.m. For now the teaching garden is only open when school is not in session, as the school does not have the staff to provide adequate supervision of the area. But after school and during library hours on Saturday, people are welcome to sit at the tables (provided with funds from the City of Winters) and enjoy and explore the garden.

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