- Author: Gayle Nelson
Article by Iris Craig, UC Master Gardener of Napa County, Class of 2016.
Napa has a well-kept secret: the demonstration garden at Connolly Ranch maintained by the U.C. Master Gardeners of Napa County. Master Gardener volunteers are there almost every Thursday morning pulling weeds, trimming plants and caring for the succulent and container gardens. The camaraderie among the volunteer gardeners and Connolly Ranch staff is delightful and keeps us coming back.
This is a teaching garden, designed to showcase research-based gardening practices and provide a place for the public to learn. The Napa County Master Gardeners inspired by similar gardens in Fresno County and Santa Clara County, began looking for a suitable site in 2000. It needed to be of adequate size with water, parking and accessibility, and of course it had to be affordable.
At the time, Connolly Ranch was being managed by the Land Trust of Napa County. Connolly Ranch and Master Gardeners have a similar mission, focused on education and connecting local people to the environment. Master Gardeners focus on adult gardeners' education, while Connolly Ranch aims to connect kids and their families to nature. We were offered a sloping site in the Ranch adjacent to the garden area.
In the summer of 2002, we began preparing the site for the future demonstration garden. Cleanup was the first task: hand-pulling weeds and hauling away years of accumulated debris. A tractor leveled the site and then created terraces. Master Gardener volunteers built a retaining wall and raised beds. We later added a shaded teaching and meeting location and a kiosk for posting information about the garden and upcoming events.
Master Gardeners and local businesses, including Van Winden's Garden Center in Napa and Mid City Nursery in American Canyon, donated plants and trees. A non-working fountain was repurposed as a succulent garden, and old tires were made into planters.
With enthusiasm, creativity and hard work, Master Gardeners made the many improvements that you see today. We constructed two storage sheds and a covered patio with benches and tables as well as a bulletin board built with the help of some Eagle Scouts.
We have designed and planted a bird, bee and hummingbird garden; a fire-wise garden; a succulent garden; a butterfly garden; an herb garden; a Mediterranean garden; and seasonal and container vegetable gardens. There are espaliered fruit trees and a rose garden. The roses are trained high to foil deer.
Each season, volunteers conduct field tests of vegetables and flowers to determine which varieties grow best in Napa County. Their progress is documented and made available through the Master Gardeners of Napa County website and publications. Last year, we planted corn, squash and beans by the Iroquois method. The Iroquois determined that this trio, which they called “the three sisters,” helped each other thrive. The beans feed the soil and climb up the corn stalks, while the large squash leaves shade the ground and keep weeds under control. Produce from the garden is donated to the Napa Food Bank.
The demonstration garden provides training for Master Gardeners on topics such as how to build and maintain a composting worm bin, how to espalier fruit trees and how to identify weeds. The Master Gardeners are often on hand during public events at Connolly Ranch to answer questions about gardening and provide educational garden activities for the whole family.
Master Gardeners volunteer more than 900 hours yearly in their garden to keep the it looking great and to educate the public.
The demonstration garden as part of Connolly Ranch is open to the public on the first Wednesday of every month and for special Connolly Ranch events throughout the year. See the Connolly Ranch website for details on days and times at http://connollyranch.org Connolly Ranch is located at 3141 Browns Valley Road in Napa. The parking access is off Thompson Ave. To get the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden inside the Ranch, from the parking lot walk past the greenhouse, the Beckstoffer chicken house and the big barn all on your left. Then enter the garden gate to the children's garden area and veer to the left down the path. You will see the entrance to the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden area.
Right before you enter, look to the right to see a California native plant garden dedicated to one of our members, and the hillside of white Matilija poppies, take a deep breath and enjoy the scents, then walk through the gate to our little Eden.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Rose Pruning” on Saturday, January 7, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Certified Rosarian Lynne Andresen and other Master Gardener rose enthusiasts will demonstrate and explain proper pruning techniques and review rose types, common rose disorders and routine maintenance. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.