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Garden Tour Features School Gardens

‘Changing Times, Changing Gardens” is the theme chosen by Tuolumne County Master Gardeners for their 20th annual Garden Tour, Sunday, May 31, 10:30am – 4:00pm.  The theme reflects California’s drought, warming temperatures and difficulty in maintaining a traditional landscape with its over-dependence on water and non-native plants. This year’s tour will feature six sites, each chosen as an example of ways to deal with gardening in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Two of the sites will allow the public access to school gardens. In general, school gardens are associated with a specific school campus and are not open to the public. They are used as hands-on learning “labs” where students can experience botany, biology, ecology, counting and math, literature and art. School gardens are for the use and education of students with a focus on skill building. In addition, gardens provide nutrition lessons with many students being willing to taste something that they’ve grown. School gardens also provide a direct link to the food we eat, allowing students to learn where and how our food is produced.

One of the school gardens on the tour is located on the campus of Sierra Waldorf School. Started in 2009, the garden is used as an important teaching tool for all classes, starting in the second grade. Students learn many skills and concepts from observing in the garden and working with the produce. This garden has a delightful atmosphere created by children and the adults who care for them.

The Sierra Waldorf website (http://www.sierrawaldorf.com/programs/specialty-classes-arts/) gives this description of the garden: “It is cared for by our gardener and our students. Its bounty is shared between Nursery and Kindergarten classes for soup making. Kindergartners will often spend time in the garden exploring. All of the grades work in the garden at least once a week. Weeding, creating beds, planting seeds and taking care of the worms, compost and bees are all chores done by our students. Every other Friday afternoon, the 7th and 8th graders help sell the produce they harvested.”  Recently, in a collaborative project, the Sierra Waldorf students planted a butterfly garden to help support Western monarch butterflies in their long-distance migrations.

The second school garden on the tour is the Sonora High School agricultural campus known as “Wildcat Ranch.” Approximately 130 acres in size, the site will be used as “an outdoor laboratory for agriculture classes at Sonora High, allowing students to create a self-sustaining farm from the ground up,” according to a 2012 Union Democrat article.

It features an area of raised beds, several acres of plowed land put into crops, housing for livestock, an aqua-culture set-up, grazing pastures for cattle, and space for students to both raise products for sale and to create and monitor experiments. This property was once considered as a location for a new high school, but is now the location of the school farm. The old school farm near Jamestown was purchased by Jamestown Mine and, for many years, the school was without such a facility. Now Wildcat Ranch is rapidly becoming a real source of pride and accomplishment for the students of Sonora High, and a place for learning for local elementary students.

Garden tour tickets, allowing you to visit the locations described above, are $10.00 per person. Tickets are available from any Tuolumne County master gardener and at the following locations: Columbia Nursery on Parrotts Ferry Road, Columbia; Sonora Lumber, South Washington Street, Sonora; Nature’s Whole Food Depot in Standard; The Nest in Twain Harte; Antiques, Etc. on Washington Street in downtown Sonora; and the University of California Cooperative Extension Office at 52 North Washington Street, Sonora. Tickets can also be purchased on-line at http://ucanr.edu/tuolumnegardentourtickets2015 .

Garden tour tickets contain a map with directions to each of the sites. There will be directional signs on streets and roads leading to the gardens. Master Gardeners will be on hand at all the gardens to answer any questions you may have about the display gardens, your own garden or gardening in general.

Proceeds from the tour provide master gardener scholarships for Columbia College students, purchase gardening reference books for the Tuolumne County Library and the master gardener library, and provide operating funds for the demonstration garden.

The descriptive articles and photos describing the annual garden tour are produced by a collaborative effort between Master Gardener volunteers and site owners.