Real Estate

Backyard vegetable gardens make a comeback

Stuck at home during the pandemic, more residents turn to growing their own food

Courtesy Getty Images.

Growing up in India, Jayanthi Srinvsan had a large garden where her family grew everything and ate everything they grew.

When she moved to the Peninsula, she continued to pursue her love of gardening. In recent months, however, her garden has blossomed into more than a hobby.

"I had been gardening and growing plants, but during COVID-19, I wanted to become self-sufficient," she explained.

Srinvsan said she signed up for some classes through the UC Master Gardeners program to hone her skills on cover crops and is currently preparing her soil for carrots, beets and turnips she plans to plant in coming months.

"I think gardening is the best thing we can do for ourselves and mental health," she added. "Getting out there and working in the bed for an hour or two is really uplifting."

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Srinvasan is not alone.

Vegetable gardens have made a noticeable comeback in backyards large and small across the nation since 2020 as people have found themselves spending more time at home and thinking of ways to make fewer trips to the grocery store.

The sale of edible plants saw the biggest growth at independent garden centers in 2020, beating out annuals for the first time since 2012, according to a State of the Industry Report by Gardening Center Magazine. The sales volume of vegetables and herbs rose 29% from spring 2019 to spring 2020, according to the report.

Master gardener Candace Simpson takes a close inspection of coriander as it blooms at the organization’s demonstration garden in Palo Alto. Coriander is a plant that attracts beneficial insects. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Sharon Erickson, a UC Master Gardener who shares planting and growing tips at the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden at Ellen Pardee Community Gardens, said local interest gardening has spiked, too. The group's online vegetable gardening classes have participants, and more than 12,500 people participated in Master Gardeners virtual library talks, workshops and other program offerings in Santa Clara County between July 2020 and June 2021.

"People were stuck at home and realized they could grow their own food," Erickson said. Along the Midpeninsula, she has seen interest among residents of all ages looking to improve their gardening skills as well as among those looking to grow specific vegetables, such as bok choy, Chinese cabbage and a variety of other Asian vegetables.

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"(This area) has some of the best soil in the world for growing things," Erickson said.

"People can get extraordinary amounts of vegetables and fruits and flowers and ornamentals in a small space with such rich soil. It's a great place to garden."

As enjoyable as gardening can be, it isn't as simple as setting seeds in soil and sprinkling the soil with water. Some instruction for first-time or even veteran gardeners can help prevent common mistakes, Erickson said.

The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which operates seven UC Master Gardeners demonstration gardens in Santa Clara County, has a long history of teaching home gardeners how to grow plants for food. Through the Master Gardeners program, residents can learn everything from how to create a water-wise garden to which fruits and vegetables grow best in specific microclimates in the area. (There are some crops that thrive in the slightly warmer south bay, but flounder in the cooler Midpeninsula temperatures.)

The program offers a mix of online and in-person classes and workshops, many of which are free, as well as access to teaching gardens where experts are available to answer questions. Each garden showcases a different variety of plants and trees.

In Palo Alto, for example, the garden serves as a showcase for new garden varieties, cover crops, rare fruits and flowering plants that attract beneficial insects. The Sunnyvale Teaching and Demonstration Garden, on the other hand, showcases vegetables and ornamental plants growing organically in raised beds, in-ground beds and containers, with an emphasis on using recycled, recyclable or salvaged materials. Master Gardener Pamela Roper, who assists with the demonstration garden at McClellan Ranch Preserve in Cupertino, which focuses on best gardening practices for vegetables and herbs used in Asian cultures, said no matter what people choose to plant, gardening is important because it gives them a place to be creative.

"We can see the fruits of our labor and watch plants grow," Roper said. "It provides a sense of enjoyment. It provides the freedom to select and grow what you want." Garden enthusiasts will have another local resource for learning about edible planting techniques in coming months. Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, which is known for its herb and rose gardens, is preparing to add an edible garden to its 2.5-acre property in Palo Alto in early 2022. Garden Director Corey Barnes said the new garden, which Gamble was in the process of breaking ground on last November, is intended to inspire residents to create their own edible gardens.

"We are most excited about our edible garden," Barnes said. "We've created an inspiring edible garden design with the intent of showing what can be accomplished with material in your own space. All of the materials we're using can be easily sourced through local garden centers or seed catalogs, and everything we plant is edible — even if we're putting in pansies, they're edible pansies."

Growing your own food? Visit a neighborhood demonstration garden

Palo Alto Demonstration Garden

851 Center Drive, Palo Alto

Features: edible garden, which grows everything from artichokes and fava beans to garlic and chives; water-wise garden, which showcases native and droughttolerant plants.

Hours: edible garden open Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon, May-September and during scheduled events; waterwise garden open from dawn until dusk.

McClellan Ranch Garden

22221 McClellan Road, Cupertino

Features: five raised beds with Asian vegetables, herbs, flowers for pollinators. Plantings include tomatoes, peppers, bitter melon, winter melon, Yu Long beans, edamame, Japanese cucumbers and Asian varieties of peppers.

Hours: Mondays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon

Guadalupe Community Gardens

Asbury and Walnut streets, San Jose

Features: 20-by-20-foot plots that showcase techniques for small gardens; backyard fruit trees.

Hours: open to public during workshops only

Martial Cottle Park Demonstration Gardens and Community Education Center

5283 Snell Ave., San Jose

Features: native plants, vegetables, fruits; showcases area's farming past

Hours: Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon. (Entry

is free, but parking is $6.)

Sunnyvale Teaching and Demonstration Garden

433 Charles St., Sunnyvale

Features: variety of vegetables and ornamental plants growing organically in raised beds, inground beds and containers.

Hours: daily, 10 a.m. - noon

Emma Prusch Farm Park

647 S. King Road, San Jose

Features: native garden wheel, high-density fruit orchard, exotic and rare fruit trees; droughttolerant native plants.

Hours: daily, 8:30 a.m. - sunset

Berger Gardens

1553 Berger Drive, San Jose

Features: showcases ecologically sustainable practices; raised beds mixed with ornamental plants and seasonal fruits and vegetables; native gardens; California Native plants that are UC Davis Arboretum Allstars, or field-trialed plants that have been determined to be disease- and pest-resistant.

Hours: edible demonstration and teaching garden open during Open Garden Days only

Gamble Garden

1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto

Features: watershed, herb, rose gardens; 23-bed edible garden opening soon.

Hours: Daily, sunrise to sunset

View more stories in our Winter 2022 Home and Garden Design publication.

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Melissa McKenzie is a freelance writer.

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Backyard vegetable gardens make a comeback

Stuck at home during the pandemic, more residents turn to growing their own food

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Wed, Feb 2, 2022, 11:31 am

Growing up in India, Jayanthi Srinvsan had a large garden where her family grew everything and ate everything they grew.

When she moved to the Peninsula, she continued to pursue her love of gardening. In recent months, however, her garden has blossomed into more than a hobby.

"I had been gardening and growing plants, but during COVID-19, I wanted to become self-sufficient," she explained.

Srinvsan said she signed up for some classes through the UC Master Gardeners program to hone her skills on cover crops and is currently preparing her soil for carrots, beets and turnips she plans to plant in coming months.

"I think gardening is the best thing we can do for ourselves and mental health," she added. "Getting out there and working in the bed for an hour or two is really uplifting."

Srinvasan is not alone.

Vegetable gardens have made a noticeable comeback in backyards large and small across the nation since 2020 as people have found themselves spending more time at home and thinking of ways to make fewer trips to the grocery store.

The sale of edible plants saw the biggest growth at independent garden centers in 2020, beating out annuals for the first time since 2012, according to a State of the Industry Report by Gardening Center Magazine. The sales volume of vegetables and herbs rose 29% from spring 2019 to spring 2020, according to the report.

Sharon Erickson, a UC Master Gardener who shares planting and growing tips at the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden at Ellen Pardee Community Gardens, said local interest gardening has spiked, too. The group's online vegetable gardening classes have participants, and more than 12,500 people participated in Master Gardeners virtual library talks, workshops and other program offerings in Santa Clara County between July 2020 and June 2021.

"People were stuck at home and realized they could grow their own food," Erickson said. Along the Midpeninsula, she has seen interest among residents of all ages looking to improve their gardening skills as well as among those looking to grow specific vegetables, such as bok choy, Chinese cabbage and a variety of other Asian vegetables.

"(This area) has some of the best soil in the world for growing things," Erickson said.

"People can get extraordinary amounts of vegetables and fruits and flowers and ornamentals in a small space with such rich soil. It's a great place to garden."

As enjoyable as gardening can be, it isn't as simple as setting seeds in soil and sprinkling the soil with water. Some instruction for first-time or even veteran gardeners can help prevent common mistakes, Erickson said.

The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which operates seven UC Master Gardeners demonstration gardens in Santa Clara County, has a long history of teaching home gardeners how to grow plants for food. Through the Master Gardeners program, residents can learn everything from how to create a water-wise garden to which fruits and vegetables grow best in specific microclimates in the area. (There are some crops that thrive in the slightly warmer south bay, but flounder in the cooler Midpeninsula temperatures.)

The program offers a mix of online and in-person classes and workshops, many of which are free, as well as access to teaching gardens where experts are available to answer questions. Each garden showcases a different variety of plants and trees.

In Palo Alto, for example, the garden serves as a showcase for new garden varieties, cover crops, rare fruits and flowering plants that attract beneficial insects. The Sunnyvale Teaching and Demonstration Garden, on the other hand, showcases vegetables and ornamental plants growing organically in raised beds, in-ground beds and containers, with an emphasis on using recycled, recyclable or salvaged materials. Master Gardener Pamela Roper, who assists with the demonstration garden at McClellan Ranch Preserve in Cupertino, which focuses on best gardening practices for vegetables and herbs used in Asian cultures, said no matter what people choose to plant, gardening is important because it gives them a place to be creative.

"We can see the fruits of our labor and watch plants grow," Roper said. "It provides a sense of enjoyment. It provides the freedom to select and grow what you want." Garden enthusiasts will have another local resource for learning about edible planting techniques in coming months. Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, which is known for its herb and rose gardens, is preparing to add an edible garden to its 2.5-acre property in Palo Alto in early 2022. Garden Director Corey Barnes said the new garden, which Gamble was in the process of breaking ground on last November, is intended to inspire residents to create their own edible gardens.

"We are most excited about our edible garden," Barnes said. "We've created an inspiring edible garden design with the intent of showing what can be accomplished with material in your own space. All of the materials we're using can be easily sourced through local garden centers or seed catalogs, and everything we plant is edible — even if we're putting in pansies, they're edible pansies."

Palo Alto Demonstration Garden

851 Center Drive, Palo Alto

Features: edible garden, which grows everything from artichokes and fava beans to garlic and chives; water-wise garden, which showcases native and droughttolerant plants.

Hours: edible garden open Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon, May-September and during scheduled events; waterwise garden open from dawn until dusk.

McClellan Ranch Garden

22221 McClellan Road, Cupertino

Features: five raised beds with Asian vegetables, herbs, flowers for pollinators. Plantings include tomatoes, peppers, bitter melon, winter melon, Yu Long beans, edamame, Japanese cucumbers and Asian varieties of peppers.

Hours: Mondays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon

Guadalupe Community Gardens

Asbury and Walnut streets, San Jose

Features: 20-by-20-foot plots that showcase techniques for small gardens; backyard fruit trees.

Hours: open to public during workshops only

Martial Cottle Park Demonstration Gardens and Community Education Center

5283 Snell Ave., San Jose

Features: native plants, vegetables, fruits; showcases area's farming past

Hours: Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon. (Entry

is free, but parking is $6.)

Sunnyvale Teaching and Demonstration Garden

433 Charles St., Sunnyvale

Features: variety of vegetables and ornamental plants growing organically in raised beds, inground beds and containers.

Hours: daily, 10 a.m. - noon

Emma Prusch Farm Park

647 S. King Road, San Jose

Features: native garden wheel, high-density fruit orchard, exotic and rare fruit trees; droughttolerant native plants.

Hours: daily, 8:30 a.m. - sunset

Berger Gardens

1553 Berger Drive, San Jose

Features: showcases ecologically sustainable practices; raised beds mixed with ornamental plants and seasonal fruits and vegetables; native gardens; California Native plants that are UC Davis Arboretum Allstars, or field-trialed plants that have been determined to be disease- and pest-resistant.

Hours: edible demonstration and teaching garden open during Open Garden Days only

Gamble Garden

1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto

Features: watershed, herb, rose gardens; 23-bed edible garden opening soon.

Hours: Daily, sunrise to sunset

View more stories in our Winter 2022 Home and Garden Design publication.

Melissa McKenzie is a freelance writer.

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