Despite a deluge of weekend storms, about 40 volunteers braved the rain to plant a community garden in front of Petaluma Fire Department Station No. 3 on South McDowell Boulevard, transforming the patchy lawn into a drought tolerant landscape complete with edible plants.
For the project led by Petaluma nonprofit Daily Acts, citizens and firefighters installed a “food forest,” featuring a rain garden with native plants intended to give runoff a chance to soak into the soil and be filtered before heading to storm drains.
Next, crews installed sheet mulch — layers of compost, cardboard and mulch — to cover the existing turf and suppress weed growth, improve soil health and increase water retention before planting fruit trees including fig, persimmon and lemon trees, as well as kitchen herbs and pollinator plants.
Contractors will also convert the existing sprinkler system to drip irrigation as a further water saving measure. The approximately $5,500 city-funded project has the potential to save 32,000 gallons of water annually, according to Environmental Service Analyst Chelsea Thompson.
Vice Mayor Dave King, who ushered in the March 12 workday with a speech, said the garden, which is visible to passing drivers and neighbors, provides the city with a way to lead by example.
“This promotes water savings. In the long run, we have to continue efforts despite recent storms,” he said. “It’s also a symbol that shows people that the city is taking its responsibility to save water seriously.”
The garden also offers opportunities to provide hands-on community education about the accessibility of sustainable landscaping and serves as a way to give back to local emergency responders, Daily Acts Programs Coordinator Kellen Watson said.
“People don’t really know what to do with their lawns, and this is meant to be a model of what we can do that people can come out and see firsthand,” she said. “There’s a learning aspect as to how do you sheet mulch, what plants do you choose and all those things that give people confidence to do it at home. Then there’s the community aspect of getting to know neighbors and people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Plus, a big piece of this is giving back to firefighters.”
Petaluma Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff Holden, who also handles building and grounds maintenance, said the choked and weedy lawn in front of the station was an eyesore, and the new garden is a “win-win” for the station and the community.
“It looks way better than it did,” he said, adding that firefighters wouldn’t have been able to accommodate time for the project into their schedules without help. “We quit watering and it died, and when it rained, it would get weeds and look really bad. Now, it looks like there’s some organization and care.”
The sheet mulch was provided through the city’s Mulch Madness program, which offers free mulch, compost, cardboard, an irrigation conversion kit and free native plants to qualifying residents who plan to do away with their lawns in favor of water conservation, Watson said.
Last year, 476,700 square feet of turf was converted through the city’s program, equating to about 12 million gallons of water saved, according to Environmental Services Supervisor Robert Wilson.