Observing what local gardens have to offer is a great way to mark the beginning of spring. Early spring shows a garden's promise, while in late spring, fruit, flowers and foliage become more defined. San Joaquin County offers some possibilities to get you started. Two have places to sit and contemplate surrounding plants as well as the birds and butterflies that enhance the experience. Several residential areas have school gardens where you can see the work of future gardeners (and their teachers) right from the sidewalk.
Muir Botanical Garden at University of the Pacific Wild, Weedy, Wonderful
This hidden gem was created in 2012 as a result of UOP's focus on water conservation as well as to reflect the university's collection of the John Muir papers. What used to be a lawn-covered quad area is now populated with CA native plants mentioned in Muir's writings. Located between Ballantyne Hall and Wilson Hall, it has five main areas that reflect most of California's varied biomes. Several benches are placed around the garden to afford observers a chance to enjoy the space. Don't miss the Carpenteria californica (Bush anemone) and its fragrant white flowers. Plan to catch a glimpse later in summer of the exquisite but elusive flower of the Hibiscus lasiocarpus (California hibiscus) planted in the center garden area. (Although the area has become somewhat overgrown, it looks much like it would in uncontrolled natural spaces.)
In Season Market and Nursery … Vibrant Butterfly Viewing
Located in central Stockton, In Season Market and Nursery has a unique setup for garden watchers. A seating area in the middle of the outdoor space is surrounded by espaliered apple trees and a vegetable garden punctuated by flowering annuals. A Passiflora incarnata (Purple passionflower) drapes the front fence of the property. This dramatic plant attracts the Agraulis vanillae (Gulf fritillary) butterfly. During an early morning visit, you'll see the butterflies awaken and unfold
School Gardens … Seeding the Future of Gardening
Several San Joaquin County schools offer students from kindergarten through high school a chance to experience the full range of gardening, from soil preparation through harvest. It's worth a walk to see how these and other schools educate students about food crops as well as nurture future gardeners along the way.
El Dorado Elementary School in Stockton has a thriving garden created by their garden club of 4th- through 8th-grade students. The planter boxes are colorfully painted by students and decorated with garden art and plant labels. Young fruit trees are placed around the space, showing the promise of figs, cherries, pomegranates and lemons. Poppies dot the garden perimeter, and tables stand ready in the shade for students to picnic or to write and chat about their gardening adventures. The product of the harvest goes to students who work in the garden, and in late summer a farmer's market is held for the school.
In Manteca, the Brock Elliott Elementary School garden has been around for about 20 years. Its evolution over time has led to a space where feeding troughs have replaced garden boxes to prevent gophers from having a field day. A new shed houses tools for student teams to clean, plant, prune or mow the area. During spring, winter vegetables - kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts - give way to the tomatoes and squash of summer.
Whether you choose to spend some time walking or sitting, there are countless opportunities to experience what early spring brings to San Joaquin County gardens. And plan to take some pictures when you do. It's time well spent.
Additional gardens to visit at UOP: Bon Appetit Native Plant Garden, Ted and Chris Robb Garden