There are now fourteen distinct gardens to visit at the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at Patrick Ranch. Once the final two themed gardens have been planted, the overall master plan will be fulfilled. But don't say the Demo Garden is “finished.” As Kay Perkins, the visionary behind this project, says: a garden is never finished.
The UC Master Gardeners of Butte County broke ground for our Demonstration Garden in the Fall of 2011 on land generously provided by the Patrick Ranch Museum at 10381 Midway in Durham, just south of Chico. Since then, this one-acre plot has been transformed into “A New California Garden: Sustainable, Functional, Beautiful.” The sole purpose of the garden is to educate the public, with an emphasis on:
Signs identify plants in the Native Plant Garden, Laura Kling
- Backyard food gardens
- Sustainable gardening practices
- Conserving water
- Protecting and nurturing soil
- Protecting water and air quality
- Reducing waste to the landfill
- Reusing and recycling
- Creating wildlife habitat
The various phases of planning, installing infrastructure, and planting (and replanting) the Demonstration Garden have provided the Master Gardeners (MGs) involved in this project with quite an education, as will be detailed below. But first -- a little history. The charter class of the Butte County MGs graduated in June 2008. Perkins was a member of that class, and from the beginning she believed that a Demonstration Garden would be a wonderful teaching tool. The Patrick Ranch Museum was eager to partner with the MGs and has continued to support the project. (For more about the Patrick Ranch Museum and its mission, see Patrick Ranch Museum).
Luckily, Landscape Architect Eve Werner joined the MG program around the same time the use of the property became available. Donating her time and expertise, Werner drew up the original plans for the site, incorporating a number of discrete gardens which each had a specific theme and purpose. Many local businesses, contractors, and professionals donated time and materials to make this dream come to fruition (see full list here).
Propagated plants in the hoop house, Laura Kling
As is true with any garden, particularly one as ambitious as the MG Demonstration Garden, lessons were learned along the way. The Demo Garden is located in the middle of a working orchard, 28 acres of a heritage Butte County ranch that are preserved for teaching historical agricultural practices. So, not surprisingly, the very first of the themed gardens, the Butte All-Stars Garden, was planted in a different environment than that of most home gardeners. The location of the All-Stars Garden – in front of the Patrick Ranch Museum Gift Shop – brought with it a lot of public traffic, high visibility, and inevitable scrutiny. At the beginning this area had essentially no shade, and the soil had been impacted (and, in some areas, compacted) by previous orchard practices, including the operation of heavy machinery.
The plant choices for this garden were based on a survey of the favorite and best performing plants of Butte County home gardeners and local nursery owners, but inevitably some were not suited for the sun exposure they received. In addition, the original irrigation was designed for xeriscaping (plants that require almost no supplemental summer water), and although many of the plants indicated in the surveys had low water requirements, combining xeriscape irrigation with non-xeriscape plants meant that some of the plants suffered. As Perkins notes, “The garden teaches you what it needs.” After years of patching and re-rigging the irrigation system, it was removed and replaced by a completely redesigned drip system which better serves the kinds of plants located in the garden.
Potting Sheds at the MG Demo Garden, Laura Kling
Since the All-Stars Garden was first planted, the trees and shrubs have matured and added some shade. The garden has been revamped, based on a second survey. Plants that do better with afternoon shade have been moved and are happier now under a beautiful Shantung maple and a crape myrtle.
Kay Perkins leads a workshop in the Outdoor Classroom at the Demo Garden, Laura Kling
All of the themed gardens that comprise the Demonstration Garden showcase what can and/or should be planted in our environment. The last couple of decades have brought increased pressure from drought, and we want to demonstrate how we can all adjust our aesthetics and pivot to a kind of gardening that is sustainable, yet still beautiful and functional. Therefore, our plants (except for some of the edibles), are low (or no) water perennials, and all of them are either Mediterranean or California natives.
Also in keeping with our mission to educate the public was the completion of our beautiful outdoor classroom in May of 2017. We graduated from planks on tree stumps under an enormous oak to a professionally designed and built arbor with furniture that can be easily switched from rows of benches to a combination of tables and benches. The arbor and its placement provide protection from the sun. Our outdoor classroom can seat up to 30 students during our Public Education Workshops (fewer when extra spacing is required for Covid), and is also the setting for smaller MG meetings, including those of our Book Group and the Demonstration Garden Steering Committee. The incredibly generous Support Group of Butte County's University of California Continuing Education (UCCE) occasionally meets there, as do local garden clubs. Again, hard work and generosity conspired to make this project a reality, including substantial donations of time and expertise from the CSU, Chico Construction Management Program's Student Chapter of the Association of General Contractors. Slater and Sons donated engineering expertise, and Greg Melton, of Melton Design Group, donated the design.
Espalier Garden in July, Laura Kling
We recently completed a brochure and map for self-guided tours of our gardens (you can find the link to download the map here. The various gardens are the following: the All Stars Garden; a Mediterranean Garden; one that showcases espaliered fruit trees; a berm garden built from materials once used on the ranch; a kitchen herb garden planted amidst a backyard orchard garden; a garden devoted to California natives; a garden for wildlife habitat; a summer dry garden (xeriscaping); a succulent garden (excellent low water plant choices); a variety of plants that thrive under oaks; a truly inspirational Edible Garden – which includes plants that are edible, along with more traditional vegetables and fruits; and finally a Heritage Almond Orchard that was developed by UC Cooperative Extension Advisor Emeritus Joseph Connell. Next up is a garden planted in Australian natives (Australia shares our Mediterranean climate). Infrastructure besides the classroom and irrigation system includes paths and arbors, as well as an office, a tool shed, a hoop house, and potting sheds, all of which were designed and completed by past Master Gardener President John Ober.
Berm Garden at the Demo Garden, Laura Kling
The final garden, yet to be implemented, is a planned Children's Garden, which will support children's education and school gardens, and play an active role in school curricula. We love to get kids excited about the earth, soil, food, and nutrition. As gardeners ourselves, and teachers of the next generation of gardeners, we know that our work is never finished.
Outdoor Classroom at Demo Garden, Laura Kling
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at email@example.com or leave a phone message on our Hotline at (530) 538-7201. To speak to a Master Gardener about a gardening issue, or to drop by the MG office during Hotline hours, see the most current information on our Ask Us Hotline webpage.