The first seeds of the Heritage Park Gardens were planted during World War II, when a young Carol Sandmeier would go out to her mother’s Victory Garden to pick berries.
“That was my first contact with gardening,” Sandmeier said. “My mother had a Victory Garden and she’d send me out for boysenberries or whatever it was. I got to watch her plant and work the garden and that was when my love of gardening was really born.
“It just seemed a natural thing to do. That has stuck with me my whole life, and I’ve always believed we have to show our kids how to do that.”
Fast-forward to several years ago, when the Town of Gardnerville was looking for a place to put a pair of large pine trees that had been growing in the median of Gilman Avenue running through Heritage Park.
Sandmeier, who serves on the Main Street Gardnerville board and on its design committee, had an idea.
The lot behind Hertiage Park and just to the south of the High School Street Apartments had gone largely unused, and unkempt, for many years.
“Those trees were blocking vision for drivers when it came to pedestrians trying to cross the street there, so I said why don’t we just put them back there and start a garden,” Sandmeier said. “I loved to garden and it just seemed like a logical place to extend what Heritage Park already offered.”
With that, a community public garden, similar in nature to the public Victory gardens Sandmeier had grown up knowing, started to take shape.
The Town of Gardnerville granted the committee use for the land and the Heritage Park Gardens were officially born last year.
“We got a committee together, and as I talked to Steve Lewis with the Cooperative Extension and Wendy Hanson of Master Gardners, they both said every garden needs a champion or it won’t work,” Sandmeier said. “We wound up with a whole committee of champions. Everyone just pitches in so much.
“Many of them don’t have their own garden here. They just love creating for their community.”
Midway through its second season, the community gardens boast 20 beds, a large flower corner and a wall of sunflowers – along with those two original pine trees.
Outside of the rabbitt fencing, though a grander plan is just beginning to develop.
A grant from the Nevada Commission on Tourism provided the funding for what will be a labyrinth walking path near the gardens’ main entrance.
“When it is all done, this could be a big tourism draw,” said Main Street Gardnerville executive director Paula Lochridge. “It’ll be a wonderful addition to what Gardnerville has to offer. Thanks to the support of the town, it’s become a way to extend the beauty of Heritage Park.
“So much work has been put into it already. The volunteers have put in hours and hours. We’re just amazed about how it is beginning to look.”
The garden committee is targeting early October for the completion of the labyrinth, which will include a three-foot plating berm around the entire circumference. The goal is to have it done before the community gardens Harvest Festival, set for Oct. 5.
Behind the labyrinth will eventually sit the big project for next year – a children’s garden with small planting beds, a large demonstration platform, an alphabet garden (a plant beginning with each letter of the alphabet in order) and picnic tables for parents to wait during lessons.
“It’ll be a learning space as well as a growing space,” Sandmeier said. “We’re planning it so it will be set up as their own area. We’re talking about some sort of afternoon day camps and workshops. My hope is to instill that love of gardening in the children of the community.”
Eventually, a 14-foot-wide pathway will encircle the entire property and link up with the Martin Slough trail system that will also eventually connect to the broader Valley trail systems.
“The goal is to bring people into the gardens, into the park and into the town on their walks,” Sandmeier said.
Three wetland areas are outlined within the gardens’ master plan, with plans for ponds and walking bridges to be added in the future.
In the spirit of community gardening, a pair of local boys scouts are working one large gardening bed this year with the entire harvest being donated to the Carson Valley Community Food Closet.
“They both live in Chichester and ride their bikes over to tend to their garden,” Sandmeier said. “And come tomato and zucchini time, everyone always ends up with too much, so we send that over to the food closet as well.”
Sandmeier said the project has been boosted by donations of materials, labor and services from throughout the community.
“People will drive by, see us working out here and ask what we are doing,” she said. “We have gained a lot of volunteers that way.”
The community gardens have regularly scheduled work days twice a month, with anyone welcome to come out and help.
While it is too late to obtain a gardening bed for this year, Sandmeier said it’s never too early to get on the waiting list for next year. She said the site has the capability to expand the community garden area for next year (Small beds are a once-a-year cost of $30 to cover setup and insurance; large beds run $70).
The Harvest Festival on Oct. 5 will be the next major event.
For more information on the Heritage Park Gardens, or to get involved volunteering, contact Paula Lochridge at email@example.com or 775-782-8027 or Sandmeier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also visit www.mainstreetgardnerville.org.