In the beginning, the California live oak tree memorializing the late Marina city councilman Ken Gray was supposed to be just that: a tree planted on a patch of soil. The tree was a fitting tribute for Gray, who was a champion of native plants. But if you weren’t part of the Marina Tree and Garden Club, which planted the oak in 2016, chances are it was lost on a mound of dirt, just another plant.
Club members took notice of the sapling that was swallowed by the shadow of a beige building in the background, and a tough patch of golden and green crabgrass in the foreground. So they took it a step further, collecting money to install a bench with a commemorative plaque, which would eventually sit atop a concrete pad, paid for by the city of Marina.
Then they took it another step further. With volunteers, borrowed elbow grease from Marina Public Works and donated plants, soil and wood chips, the Marina Tree and Garden Club transformed the corner of a parking lot into a green space. Nearly two years later, the native plants – everything from grasses, shrubby sage and blooming flowers – are vibrant, attracting butterflies and bees.
“This could have easily been a $10,000 project,” says member Juli Hoffman, who has been with the club for around a decade. She brings up money because, for one, parks and community gardens can be costly to start – and to maintain. The associated expenses can bump green spaces down on city budget priority lists.
The other reason Hoffman cites the dollar figure is more positive: Starting green spaces in Marina has been possible with just a little money and a lot of volunteers. Of the 49 members, 100 percent have day jobs and most don’t have relevant professional experience. Hoffman herself is a graphic designer by day.
“We’re really just a ragtag team of volunteers,” she says, adding they get plenty of people who don’t know where to start. “A lot of them have just moved here and want to learn how to garden.”
Part of the experience is sharing knowledge and creating community. They meet up for semi-regular potluck-style meetings to exchange ideas and to decide on new projects. They bring in experts on beekeeping, pest control, native gardening. They give away grants to local schools to start and maintain school gardens. They have seasonal seed and bulb exchanges, a garden tour every other year showcasing some of the most unique gardens in Marina. They offer workshops on gardening trends.
“People would rather see a garden – not an old couch.”
It’s a lot of effort for a little bit of greenery, but even a sliver of a garden is something people can enjoy in their day-to-day lives, Hoffman says. While Marina is growing and in an active housing development phase, she sees numerous areas with the potential to become a garden, like empty and overgrown areas that are set aside for storm drainage.
“They’ve become places where people dump couches,” Hoffman says. “I’m sure the people living in the apartments nearby would much rather see a vegetable garden – not an old couch.”
That’s where Marina Tree and Garden Club’s outreach and partnerships help spread the gospel of green. The Goodwill Food Garden Project – a community food garden located on Imjin at Second Avenue in Marina – was founded in 2011 by Everyone’s Harvest in conjunction with Goodwill Industries. The club entered into an agreement to maintain 18 raised beds in that garden. And alongside their beds are others overseen by Hope Services (a nonprofit that trains and helps find employment for adults with developmental disabilities), CSU Monterey Bay’s Service Learning students, the Shoreline Culinary Arts program, nonprofit Veterans Transition Center and more.
On a sunny and breezy afternoon, fellow club member Kerry Smith (also a graphic designer by day) hovers over the Goodwill Garden beds, dense with purple and green lettuces, mint, mustards and other edibles. She checks on the plants, looking for any sign of pests.
“Marina used to have a transient lifestyle because Fort Ord was a military base,” Smith says. “No one was really thinking of gardening and really laying down roots.” But that’s changing with a new influx of residents buying homes as developments spring up. She points to a nearby house on Third Avenue: “The people who live just over there are curious what can they grow here and where to grow it.”
The club is answering those questions, and offering up this space. “You don’t need a yard to have a garden,” Smith says. “You just need to know where to start.”