A community is more than a collection of services, buildings, and inhabitants. If you want to see the heart of a community, look for the little things that show its spirit. If you want to see the spirit of Sunnyvale, look at the Charles Street Gardens.
How it happened
Four years ago Sustainable Community Gardens, a non-profit “dedicated to the renewal of local, sustainable food systems throughout Silicon Valley,” converted a weedy acre of unused land behind the Sunnyvale Library, opening the garden on Memorial Day in 2006. According to their website, the garden’s “volunteer built plots and gathering spaces are the only community run gardens in Silicon Valley.”
Behind the slightly foreboding black iron fence are rows of planting beds, cared for and tended by Sunnyvale residents using organic gardening methods. Residents can apply for one of these beds to grow plants in, though there’s a waiting list. The resulting garden is more than a source of sustainable food and an ever-changing display of flowers, it’s a pick-me-up for your soul.
Flowers and veggies
At any given time you might see gardeners tending their flower beds, mulching their ornamental cabbage or examining the compost pile, watering, checking if their tomatoes are ripe for picking yet, or maybe engaging in conversation with anyone else who has wandered in with a look of interest on their face.
Walk along the gravel pathways connecting the beds and you’ll soon appreciate the beauty of the vegetables as much as that of the flowers, all of which change with the seasons. Sunflowers peer down from between ornamental trees planted along the back wall. Red tomatoes pop out of dense green foliage, looking pretty as roses. Herbs and ornamental flowers grow within the circle of a brick peace sign set in the ground.
Brightly painted storage sheds add to the cheery nature of the garden, while at the back, rather more serious greenhouses are filled with trays of seedlings being prepared for planting.
A changing garden
The garden is different every time you go. One day a row of labeled, drought-resistant native seedlings might be on display in preparation for a plant sale. Another visit might offer the scent of chives and mint growing in an herb garden, while bees and butterflies vie for the attention of pollen-filled flowers edging the gravel paths.
Chat with a gardener, take a class from the Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County who have a demonstration garden here, or just sit in the shady arbor and enjoy the surroundings.
If you go
Charles Street Gardens
433 Charles Street, Sunnyvale
Hours are pretty much whenever the gate isn’t locked. If you can’t get through the front gate on Charles Street, walk around the back to the left. There you’ll find another gate that is usually open.
Tread lightly, this is a working garden, and there are no free samples.
Charles Street Gardens website
The Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County have a demonstration garden and teach monthly classes on a variety of gardening techniques at the Charles Street Garden. For more information, see the Master Gardeners’ website here.