Discovering the world of small-scale gardening

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Our former vegetable garden, which has become part storage space, part overgrown grass and weeds. Photo: Lauren Zaren.

By Lauren Zaren, Environment California Intern, UC Davis Class of 2021

When I was accepted into the UC Center Sacramento internship program for Spring 2020, I couldn’t wait to gain hands-on experience in policy around the state’s capitol. I secured a spring internship here, at Environment California, and was ready to work on campaigns, attend legislative hearings, and make the case for a brighter future for the planet.  

As winter quarter wound down at UC Davis, and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) started to spread globally, my plans and expectations shifted. Would I be able to participate in UCCS? What about my internship? Where will I live for the next few months while this chaos unfolds?

I am grateful to report that, while the last month has brought unimaginable circumstances, I have been able to continue my life as a student from my home in Southern California, while only leaving the house to walk my dog.

As someone who (regrettably) spends a significant amount of downtime on social media, I have seen hundreds of posts suggesting ways to pass the time during isolation, one of them being to start a garden. In collaboration with Environment California and my work to support the "No Bees, No Food" campaign, I am going to share my journey towards revitalizing our family garden over the next several months.

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Me, planting trees on a windy day last July. Photo: Lauren Zaren.

In addition to doing my part to cultivate a pollinator-friendly garden, I am hopeful that this project will have several tangential benefits. I want to strengthen my relationship with my grandfather, who can only speak in broken English, and learn more about one of his lifelong hobbies. I am excited to renew his passion for gardening, which was understandably put on hold as we lost my grandmother to cancer last summer.  

Finally, completing this project will encourage me to learn new skills and spend more time outdoors, which I believe will be beneficial to my mental health, as well as the health of anyone who chooses to join me in this endeavor.

Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring a variety of topics including how to designate a gardening plot, what types of soil are best to use, which native and pollinator-friendly plants I should grow, how to compost, and how to keep my garden alive after it has sprouted. I hope you are as excited as I am to embark on this multi-dimensional project and reap the environmental, social and (mental and physical) health benefits of this activity.

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Our makeshift compost pile, where my dog likes to dig around and steal food scraps. Photo: Lauren Zaren.

If you would like to get started growing your own garden, here are some resources that I found helpful:

  1. 10 Tips for Beginner Gardeners | The Old Farmer's Almanac

  2. Planning and Planting Your First Vegetable Garden | Gardener's Path

  3. How to Start Your Own Organic Garden | The Spruce

  4. Why Garden? The National Garden Bureau's Top Ten Reasons

  5. Gardening for the Environment | Smithsonian Libraries