Incline Village’s Demonstration Garden offers weekly classes, pertinent North Lake Tahoe gardening and landscaping tips | SierraSun.com

Incline Village’s Demonstration Garden offers weekly classes, pertinent North Lake Tahoe gardening and landscaping tips

Nestled among the trees in Incline Village is the North Lake Tahoe Demonstration Garden, a magical, natural escape where plants and pollinators native to the region thrive.

The garden's concept was established in 1991, and after much planning, donations, volunteer time and labor; it opened to the public in 1998.

A common misconception of the Demonstration Garden is that it is affiliated with Sierra Nevada College.

The college was gracious in providing the land and water needed to sustain the garden. Since 1998, all labor and maintenance has been carried out by volunteers, whose vast gardening and landscaping knowledge is surpassed only by the size of their hearts.

"I love the challenge of working with nature and seeing what happens without pushing my control. I love planting plants that I enjoy, but that will work in harmony with nature," said board member and newsletter coordinator, Janet Steinmann.

The Demonstration Garden is just that — an educational resource for the community to learn and develop best practices for lake-friendly landscaping, conservation planning, and learning which species are especially successful in region's climate.

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"Each demonstration shows gardeners and landscapers what works here; the best plants to grow for food or for landscaping. People still do it here, even though it's such a short season and we want them to be successful; it has to be beautiful," Steinmann said.

In addition to teaching people how to curate the perfect growing environment for their favorite ornamental and food plants, the master volunteer gardeners host all kinds of classes to benefit local homeowners.

Are you aware of how to properly lay a driveway with the right materials and drainage system? Would you love to have your own butterfly, bird and bee garden but aren't quite sure which native plants they love the most? Are you looking to grow the lowest maintenance grass possible with the least amount of chemical runoff?

The North Lake Tahoe Demonstration Garden can answer these questions and so many more.

They specialize in practical landscaping that yields a gorgeous result.

"We do not encourage lawns simply because they require a lot of maintenance," Steinmann said. "We teach instead about cover crops which add nitrogen to the soil and it stays there. We don't like fertilizers because they act like a drug to the plants — they will make your plants look beautiful at first, but then you need to keep adding more to keep them looking good. You actually aren't adding nutrients to the soil, you're depleting the soil of its nutrients," she said.

The garden and landscape experts guide locals on how to stabilize slopes in your yard's terrain, even how to create a spiral herb garden like the one they're growing, featuring thyme, oregano, and sage.

The food plants growing at the Demonstration Garden include rhubarb, salad greens, tomatoes, strawberries, onion, potato, and asparagus — all of which they can teach you to grow at home.

Heather Hall is another core member of the Demonstration Garden's volunteer team. Hall, who has been with the team for the past seven years, works as their secretary and runs social media.

"I moved here from the Bay Area and missed gardening. I met Marg (Margaret Solomon) and she got me involved in the garden, it really is such a nice resource for the community to have," she said.

Solomon, who brought Hall into the group, says she is always welcoming new members to join in on their fun.

"We are run 100 percent by members and donations and love getting new volunteers. So, get involved, come out and help," she said.

The North Lake Tahoe Demonstration Garden hosts several events, the next being a tea party with appetizers using the herbs grown right in the garden.

Last week, the group hosted a session with Kirk Hardie, founder and president of Red Tail Adventures, who taught guests about how to attract birds to their garden.

"You want birds, they kill insects like mosquitos — we'll go over what they need in your garden," he said.

This and so many other fun experiences can be had for a $5 class fee, or gardening enthusiasts can purchase a yearlong membership for $25.

"Since we aren't run by the college, it's an all-volunteer effort," she said. "We always need members who are interested in planting, weeding, cleaning up, helping with the irrigation project — we want people who are interested in knowing about sustainable and environmentally friendly gardening."

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at cwalker@sierrasun.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.