The Community Gardens of Santa Clarita Where good things grow

Valencia resident Teresa Fuller, 60, waters the roses by her garden plot at the Santa Clarita Community Garden in Central Park on Monday Feb. 28, 2022. Chris Torres/The Signal

By Jim Walker

Signal Staff Writer

As spring approaches and pandemic worries ease, you might finally be raising your head out of the compost of the last couple years, and looking for inspiration and new growth. What could be a more literal example of that than starting a garden? And, if you need inspiration for your inspiration, you should know that, even during the pandemic, gardening was in full force at the Community Gardens of Santa Clarita, where food is grown, knowledge is shared, nature is nurtured and improvements have been underway.

Located at the edge of Central Park, the gardens have been in operation since 2010 and currently feature 131 garden plots — and so much more. Mark Hershey is the president of the Community Gardens, where a band of dedicated volunteers comprise the board and guiding force.

“This is a beautiful place, with butterfly gardens, two owl boxes, 45 fruit trees, 19 chickens, two sheds and both 10- by 10-foot and 10- by 20-foot plots,” he said. And he added, “You can grow a lot of organic food out of a 10 by 10 plot.”

Hershey said there are probably about 80 gardeners currently active at the gardens, but he was upfront about the availability of the popular ($52 per year) garden plots. “Sign up on our website now, but it takes at least four to six months before you get a plot.” He added that most new gardener members usually join in January, after the end-of-theyear turnover.

In the meantime, you can look over the fence and take in the garden’s ambiance, or be allowed entry during one of the special Saturday work days. “When we have meetings on Saturdays, usually the third Saturday of the month, people can come in from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.,” Hershey said. And then you will mingle with the many busy but friendly members going about their maintenance tasks.

This limited access for non-members is necessary, Hershey said, because sometimes people feel that the term “community gardens” means free food for the community. That is not the case, though extra food produced there is distributed through outreach projects.

“Kim Harris and Sandy Stevens organize large distributions to the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry,” he said. And eggs produced by the gardens’ chickens are provided to the public for a donation of $5 per dozen.

Hershey noted there are many other helpful garden members, including Suzanne Burlingham and Teresa Fuller, who care for the gardens’ southwest and southeast nature areas, and Mike Faragher, the official, yet still volunteer, maintenance man.

Mike Faragher, the head of maintenance at the Santa Clarita Community Garden, builds a rain gutter to catch rain water near his compost bins at the Santa Clarita Community Garden in Central Park on Monday Feb. 28, 2022. Chris Torres/The Signal

Though the pandemic did put a crimp into the gardens’ activities, active gardening continued and things are pretty much back to normal. In addition, Hershey said improvement projects during the period included the installation of a beautiful decomposed granite pathway and, with the help of a $5,000 grant from the city, “We replaced 17 of the plots’ 10 by 10 baseboards.”

Teresa Fuller is one of the original gardener-members from 2010. “Gardening is a little bit of luck and a lot of work,” she said, “but I love it as a hobby.” She has one 10 by 10 plot, and takes care of the gardens’ southeast area, which is a butterfly area, she said. This location is loaded with milkweed, which attracts monarch butterflies, in particular, but also other butterflies and bees. “The monarchs come every year and breed here,” she said, and noted that their population had increased this year.

Fuller said she grows seasonal organic produce – “anything for the salad, and herbs I can cook with.” Sometimes this includes out-of-the-ordinary plants, such as Brazilian star fruit. She also likes flowers. “I think everybody should try their hand at gardening. It’s something special. Start doing it with your children, even if it’s just tomato plants on the porch.”

Faragher said, “I’m chair of the Maintenance Committee,” and has been such for eight years. He has one 10- by 20-foot plot of his own, as well. “I enjoy it. It keeps me busy, and off the sofa,” he said.

Faragher said he takes care of the gardens’ plumbing, does painting and wood repair. He installed solar panels and a converter to provide 110- volt power. “I also put the sheeting on top of the compost bin to direct rain water into the gutter and into the rain barrel.”

Faragher said the term “community gardens” is quite appropriate. “This is a good community. There is a great bunch of people down here. We really like each other and have a great deal of respect for nature.” And he added that there are a lot of places where members can sit down and socialize during work days.

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Two chickens drink from their water container next to their barn at the Santa Clarita Community Garden in Central Park on Monday Feb. 28, 2022. Chris Torres/The Signal

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