In a small Meyers lot that was scorched by the Angora Fire six years ago, the ground is bursting with life. Blooming native wildflowers spike the plot with color. Deep red lettuce sprouts from a raised bed. Bees buzz around select plants. This is the Evans Family Garden.
The garden was created in 2008 after the Angora Fire burned down 90-year-old Owen Evans home. Instead of rebuilding, the longtime South Lake Tahoe resident wanted to do something for the community.
“He wanted to give back to the neighborhood that had treated him so very well,” said Evans’ daughter, Leona Allen. “He had the idea of just putting together something pretty for them.”
Evans had been a naturalist for the U.S. Forest Service. His specialty was the native plants of the Sierra Nevada. After forming a partnership with the Tahoe Resource Conservation District and a lot of legwork, the garden was born.
“They just kind of took the ball and ran with it,” Allen said. “It blossomed into a model garden for defensible space from fire, best management practices, use of native species and water conservation,”
Today, the space is divided into sections displaying a variety of gardening strategies specific to the Lake Tahoe area. There are nearly 150 different species, many native to the area. The garden is often used for classes and demonstrations on topics ranging from sustainable landscaping to the drawbacks of sod.
“It functions for us kind of as a living laboratory of the recommendations we use,” said Adam Henriques, a Tahoe Resource Conservation District water resources technician and volunteer at the Evans Family Garden.
For the area that had been so drastically changed by the 2007 blaze, the garden showed people how to replant their yards. But it did take some experimenting before the plot became bountiful.
“It was just bare, eroding soil, like most of the properties out there. It was exposed, dirty and dry,” said TRCD environmental scientist Jennifer Cressy, who oversees the garden on behalf of the agency and helps coordinate volunteers, classes and workshops. “We put stuff out there that just died.”
As the new combinations of plants began to take hold, the sections began to develop. One area was devoted to native species, another to slope stabilization, another to vegetables, another to grass alternatives. And the keepers have had to deal with new problems.
“The pests have changed in that environment as well,” Cressy said. “There’s a lot more rodents. It’s not so much a squirrel and forest community, it’s more like an open grassland.”
Though the space has come a long way since the fire, the TRCD hopes to continue to develop the garden. They’re always looking for donations and volunteers, Cressy said. Each third Saturday of every month is a volunteer day.
In the garden Friday, mountain bluebirds flitted from the birdhouses. Sounds of construction of new houses echoed through the valley. The vegetables and flowers sparkled with raindrops from the recent storm in the morning sun. Tiny signs labeled many of the plants.
“We are starting to label all of our plants out there so when people walk out there and say ‘ooh I’d like to have that in my garden’ but they don’t know what it is, it’s right there,” Allen said.
Though her father passed away before he could see the garden’s first plants, Allen is pretty sure she knows how he would feel if he saw it today.
“I think he’d be dancing to see this,” she said.