Demonstration garden at Incline Village seeks new leadership
It’s clear that Alison Toy, Program Manager for UC Davis Tahoe Center for Environmental Science, is passionate about the North Lake Tahoe Demonstration Garden.
Immediately upon arriving at the garden on a crisp fall morning, she launches into a story about hand picking hundreds of aphids off the tomato plants until the plants grew so successfully, she had to beg her colleagues to take tomatoes home.
The garden, nuzzled in a corner of Sierra Nevada College’s campus, has been a part of the community since 1991. It was the brainchild of community members Linda Pittman, Margaret Solomon and Dick Post.
Since then, it has been attended to and loved by the garden’s board, including long-time board member, Jan Steinmann. Over the more than 25 years of the garden’s existence, it has offered community classes on topics such as native plants, pollinator gardening, slope stabilization and forest health.
Informational signs line the garden path discussing defensible space near houses, keeping bears away from food and garbage and many other topics.
Benches and tables throughout the garden offer SNC students a quiet place to get away.
“This garden truly was a labor of love,” Toy said.
Unfortunately, the garden is in danger of becoming abandoned and overgrown.
According to Steinmann, the board was dissolved due to health issues and old age of the board members.
Although Steinmann doesn’t want to run the garden anymore, she also doesn’t want to see the garden go away.
Toy has taken on a huge responsibility of keeping the garden alive. She gathered members from UC Davis, SNC and IVGID to formulate a plan for the future of the garden.
This last year, they tested out a pilot program. Toy was responsible for programming, SNC provided housing for a student who was required to spend 10 hours a week maintaining the garden, and IVGID took on the responsibility of providing water services to the garden as well as winterizing the garden at the end of the season.
After the first year, Toy is not sure the plan is sustainable. She admits the garden is a lot of responsibility for one student, who has other classes and responsibilities, to maintain.
While Toy herself loves the garden, she has a full-time job, as well as, running the garden and doesn’t have the timeto continue.
Still, she also doesn’t want to see the garden go away.
“It’s definitely an educational resource for the community,” Toy said.
The garden is going through a transformation, it is being rebranded as the North Lake Tahoe Educational Garden.
Over the summer and fall, Toy ran a weekly program in collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club. Students planted and maintained their own fruits and vegetables, including micro greens, garlic, kale and potatoes.
Toy tried to inspire students to eat more greens by having them grow their own, although she did admit that she bribed the students with a lot of ranch with the greens.
In addition to the kids’ programs, the garden has been used by SNC students and community members for research.
For the past six years, Toy has done a native plant phenology citizen science data collection at the Tahoe City Garden and has recently expanded that program to the North Tahoe garden.
“Citizen Science has been such a great way for our local community to not only get outside and really take a close look at what’s happening in their local environment, but it’s also an amazing educational opportunity for kids and adults,” Toy said. “It makes topics like climate change more tangible, by providing evidence and understanding that the key phases in our local plants are changing in correlation to our changing climate.”
She has also seen SNC students studying wildlife that comes into the garden
Toy sees a ton of potential for the future of the garden. She wants to expand beyond the Boys & Girls Club field trips to include regular field trips from local schools to, “bring local students to the garden to learn about their native plants, identification, and understanding the importance of gardens.”
She sees potential in using the garden as an extended classroom for SNC students.
“I see a lot of potential for education outside of the classroom to match education inside the classroom,” Toy said.
While SNC has been a partner in maintaining the garden in the last year, Toy doesn’t think it makes sense for the garden to be a solely student garden.
One of the problems Toy sees is that the gardening season doesn’t perfectly align with school schedules.
“It makes more sense for it to be a community garden, not just a student project,” Toy said.
Toy is working to make the garden more welcoming to the community. There are several empty raised beds that could potentially be used by community members.
The garden has also been used as a venue for events and Toy said it will continue being a great spot for events.
Finally, Toy is working to update the informational signs in the garden by making them bigger and distilling down the information on the signs. The garden will need funding to make those signs.
Toy said she hopes the three groups will meet again this winter to decide the plan going forward.