UC Davis Good Life Garden 2.0

New design mixes edibles and perennials to serve multiple needs

It’s safe to say that autumn is upon us -- temperatures are dropping and we’ve even seen a little rain. These tell-tale signs of fall not only make it a popular season, they are also the same reasons why fall is the best time to plant and, at the newly renovated UC Davis Good Life Garden, that is exactly what’s happening.

What happened to the prior landscape?
Since 2008, this garden, located in the courtyard of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, was a popular venue for high-profile events thanks to the gorgeous, ever-changing edible landscape. Then, a little over a year ago, to prepare for an innovative rainwater harvesting project, many of the edible demonstration planting beds were removed.

What makes this landscape different?
“During the transition period, we took the time to rethink the whole area,” says Kathleen Socolofsky, assistant vice chancellor and director of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, “We had a long wish list of concepts we wanted the landscape to help fulfill and thanks to generous donors who gave during our ‘GATEway to the Edible Campus Campaign,’ we are thrilled to be doing just that.”

Those concepts included reestablishing a landscape as stunning as the one that preceded it, designing it to require less water and maintenance, building in student leadership and learning opportunities and showcasing the academic departments that surround the garden.

“This was the hardest planting design I’ve ever been a part of,” says Stacey Parker GATEways horticulturist for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden and staff mentor for their Learning by Leading™ Edible Landscaping internship. “I agonized about every decision, but I’m so pleased with how it is all coming together.”

Student engagement
To define the areas earmarked for student learning, Parker reserved all the garden’s raised planting beds for her edible landscaping interns. The students will soon fill the beds with a plethora of cool season crops including multiple varieties of broccoli, kale, lettuce and swiss chard which, upon harvest, will go straight The Pantry– a student-run service providing basic necessities for students.

Photo of Good Life Garden
Tanya Kucak and Ruth Flowers, community volunteers for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, carefully line up and space out their plantings before digging any holes. The garden’s design incorporates  straight lines and right angles to mirror its square planting beds. (Photo by Katie Hetrick)

Additional perennial plantings
The remaining in-ground beds will be filled with lower-maintenance perennial edibles including herbs that also serve to attract pollinators. In these areas Parker is planting thyme, oregano, pineapple guava, stevia, rhubarb, artichoke, chamomile, dwarf varieties of lavender and more.

“It’s a formal looking space due to all the right angles and multiple, Mondrian-style planting beds. The design needed to fit that look so I’m mirroring it by creating repeating rows and borders of similar plants.”

UC Davis Campus Landscape Architect, Christina DiMartini Reyes, created the premier Good Life Garden design for its grand opening in 2008 and offered Parker tips on making her selections fit the surrounding terra cotta orange building color.

“Christina advised me to sparingly use plants that bloom in pastel colors and focus on hot colors including reds, oranges, and yellows, then opt for blues or purples.

“In addition to the edibles, we are planting perennial grasses, flowers and fruits including blue fescue, coneflower, catmint, yarrow, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. I’m incorporating plants with different foliage colors too, otherwise you are staring at a sea of green without much contrast.”

Next, Parker plans to add additional trees to the Good Life Garden’s small but mature orchard.

Academic engagement
“Given the impact the Department of Food Science and Technology has had on the California almond production, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include at least one,” says Parker.

“Like our other GATEway Gardens throughout campus, we want this garden to be a showcase of our campus’s academic expertise, a resource for student learning and a place for community engagement.”

They are well on their way! Arboretum and Public Garden staff, community volunteers and students will be busy planting the area throughout fall and encourage community members to visit, see their progress and find inspiration for their own ornamental edible and/or low-water landscapes.   

In the meantime, most of the same or similar perennials, herbs and edibles planted here will also be available at the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden’s plant sale on Saturday, October 13.

Volunteers working in the UC Davis Good Life Garden

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