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The Latest Dirt - Sept 2022

What’s New at Rivertown?

By Lisa Bramblet

Photo by Lisa Bramblet. Rivertown Demonstration Garden Sign
Photo by Lisa Bramblet. Rivertown Demonstration Garden Sign

Rivertown Demonstration Garden has been planning and re-grouping, and planning some more, as the garden has been reoccupied over the last year, following little to no activity during the pandemic. In the midst of making plans for a mini orchard along our back fence line and a potential patio garden demonstration adjacent to our amazing Garden Shed, we determined that not only was there something hampering plant growth in the main garden beds, but that we also were not altogether feeling that the current garden configuration was much of a ‘Demonstration.’ The soil issue persisted—despite cover crops and forking our beds. The soil was severely compacted (hard as rock!). Most of the garden beds may be in the 20+ year old range; methodologies were a bit different back then.

A group of us banded together to propose the beginning of a revitalization project for Rivertown that would allow us to truly embrace the title of “Demonstration Garden” while resolving our soil issues in the beds. A plan was presented to the attending UC Master Gardeners at our monthly Rivertown Demonstration Garden meeting in August to begin dismantling our concrete block beds (ALL of our beds are concrete cinderblock construction), and first analyze what is causing our soil compaction issues, and second rebuild the garden beds using different bed plans:

  • In-ground
  • Raised beds with different materials (economical plug-and-play kits, built beds)
  • Large containers (stock tanks and wine barrels)
  • Moveable options (grow bags)
  • A Spiral Bed focal point to draw visitors into the garden
  • And potentially a welcoming area at the front of the garden

Additionally planned is a ‘Ruin Garden’ with a solar recirculated garden pond and waterfall, appointed with an ever popular succulent garden and a planted wall.

Photo by Lisa Bramblet. Rivertown Demonstration Garden concrete cinderblock raised beds.
Photo by Lisa Bramblet. Rivertown Demonstration Garden concrete cinderblock raised beds.

Ambitious plans? We think so and are excited to get to work. We need many hands to complete all these changes. We have deconstructed one bed, and completed a soil review the last week of August. We determined that the beds, and possibly the entire area, have a foundation of either two layers of weed block fabric sandwiching gravel and/or fine gravel or one layer of fabric and fine gravel—not great, as this was causing an artificial second soil horizon that was bogging down and compacting, not great for micro- or macro-life! Not a great place to grow anything. We found barely any signs of life until we got below that cloth/gravel sandwich, where we found worms in the native clay soil. Results will be presented at the next monthly garden meeting. We propose removal of ALL beds, ultimately to reconstruct new raised beds properly, and to include a diversity of building options, sizes and configurations to give a nice palate of ideas for visitors.

Other goings-on were removal of a damaged Mediterranean bay tree (Laurus nobilis), pruning our remaining bay, and moving the fence at the back corner of the garden to gain more space for our Ruin Garden and composting. Things are moving along. Our intrepid group is focusing on weekly communication to keep connected and to maintain support of each project phase as we go. We are documenting our progress, challenges, and findings to create a useful record to share with visitors. So when all is done, and things are running smoothly and lovely, we can show the journey we took to successfully reach our goals to our visitors.

We hope that our new activities will attract additional CoCoMGs to come and join the work in progress at Rivertown, as we strive toward the goal of being a truly diverse Demonstration Garden. We will be able to show local homeowners many ideas and materials to employ in their home gardens, whether they have a typical suburban yard or a small patio. We look forward to unveiling the new “Rivertown.” Don’t wait—come work with us! You are all welcome to build momentum with us.