Sonoma Garden Park is an ‘oasis’ of family fun close to downtown

Sonoma Garden Park is an ‘oasis’ of family fun close to downtown

Rachel and Jason Bowers were barely half an hour into their first visit to Sonoma Garden Park but they already knew they’d return to the serene 6.1-acre public agricultural park just east of the historic Sonoma Plaza.

“We love it. It’s so immediately beautiful,” said Rachel, cradling the couple’s 7-week-old baby, Desi.

“It’s incredible,” said her husband, trailing after their 2-year-old son, Elliott, as he explored the park’s newest feature, the children’s play area. “I’ve been in awe the whole time I’ve been here.”

The Napa couple enjoys gardening and Elliott “loves to help,” Rachel said, so a Saturday morning visit was an ideal outing.

The city-owned working farm is celebrating its 30th anniversary under the management of the Sonoma Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ecological health in Sonoma Valley. Steve Carara manages the park, which is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Deeded to the city in 1977 by local school teacher Pauline Bond, the property has been transformed from a bare lot to a destination for home gardeners, people seeking an easy walk through lush surroundings or families like the Bowers looking for a fun way to enjoy the outdoors while picking up tips about sustainable gardening.

Moving along the park’s ADA accessible winding pathways, there’s something to discover at every turn: a butterfly, birds, flowers and native bee gardens; a Fig Forest, oak woodland and orchards. And at the children’s garden, there’s a handcrafted sign welcomes young visitors to “Taste what we grow – 2 tastes per kid.”

In the expansive crop circle, park staff and volunteers grow produce for the weekly Harvest Market, while the nearby community garden features rental plots for personal gardening. The raised beds, wine barrels and assorted planters in the community garden sport a wide variety of produce, artichokes to zucchini, with twirling pinwheels, statuary and metal garden art lending a festive feeling.

There’s also a wellness tent where yoga classes are planned and a rock-lined labyrinth dotted with plants like lavender and California poppies, where visitors can go for quiet moments of reflection.

Numerous picnic tables are positioned throughout the park, welcoming visitors to dine alfresco among the birds, butterflies and small critters — like squirrels or lizards — that might show up at any given time. Visitors often can spot pollinators throughout the picturesque park.

Gardening produce for Harvest Market

Tucked away in a rural, tree-lined residential neighborhood, the park is a natural gem in a community that draws tourists to nearby wineries, tasting rooms, shops, restaurants and historic sites.

“There’s a lot happening in nature there,” said Ivana Nedelchev, the park’s bilingual volunteer coordinator.

She oversees a team of some 100 volunteers who help with everything from weeding and starting seeds to harvesting. “Volunteers get to be involved in different phases of the growing process and also get to see the results at the Harvest Market,” she said.

Held Saturday mornings from spring through fall in the park’s Straw Bale Barn, the market offers fresh-picked vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs, as well as local honey, olive oil, jam and more. Although not certified organic, the park doesn’t use chemicals, Nedelchev said.

The barn is located near a massive valley oak called the Grandmother Tree, reportedly several centuries old. It’s among the park’s numerous trees.

Eggs from the park’s free-range hens are especially popular at the market. “The eggs are wonderful and colorful and the freshest,” Nedelchev said. “Come early (before they sell out).”

Sonoma residents Laura and Mark Lucas live nearby and have been visiting the park for years. “It’s part of our dog walk (with their friendly Goldendoodle),” Laura said. “It’s a pleasant experience and everyone is so nice. We’re very fortunate to have this here.”

The couple recently purchased Swiss chard, Bibb lettuce and a bouquet of colorful flowers. “Having this fresh produce basically in our back yard is just fabulous,” Laura said.

Weekly plant sales

The Harvest Market is one of the park’s many highlights. A weekly California native plant sale offers selections like narrow leaf milkweed, California cone flowers and hummingbird sage – all grown on-site in the native plant nursery.

The UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County has been a park partner for more than 15 years, helping out in numerous ways. Volunteers staff an information table during the Harvest Market to provide tips and answer questions, and also showcase the program’s Water Wise Demonstration Garden, featuring an abundance of plants with low water needs.

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