By KRISTINA HACKER
A 2-acre parcel that has long been an eyesore for the La Loma area in Modesto has been transformed into a neighborhood oasis thanks to the vision of one woman and the efforts of the community.
When Rhonda Allen saw the neglected tract of land along Encina Avenue near La Loma Junior High School, she knew it could be so much more.
“I was thinking about something low-impact, but beautiful for the neighborhood and came up with a native garden,” she said.
She took her idea to the City of Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department in June 2016, and then garnered the support of the La Loma Neighborhood Association. Over the next several months, Allen and the neighborhood association worked on a plan to renovate the City-owned parcel.
In January 2017, the City of Modesto installed water service to the area and planted 34 Valley Oak trees, and in March 2017, the neighborhood association signed a memorandum of understanding with the City of Modesto to construct and maintain a native garden.
One year later, Allen’s vision was realized through a lot of hard work and the volunteer efforts of not only the residents of the La Loma neighborhood, but a number of different organizations and businesses throughout the community.
“Step by step things have happened,” said Allen.
The garden saw its first major planting as part of the April 2017 Love Modesto event and later that month the garden’s pathway was created by a donation from GHI Paving Company. Employees of Modesto Subaru not only helped with planting at the garden, the local company also donated the funds to have large boulders installed from Alpine Boulders.
Youth organizations have also contributed to the native garden. A Modesto Girl Scout Troop created a Children’s Garden area that features hop scotch tiles, a rock version of tic-tac-toe and a pie shaped herb garden. And local Eagle Scout Jacob Kubik built a bulletin board to post information about the garden and its native plants.
In October 2017, volunteers added an additional 200 plants to the garden and in November 2017 the La Loma Native Garden held a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The garden is now the perfect place for an early-morning walk or an afternoon stroll. During a mild winter day in January, La Loma resident Tom McCarthy and his daughter Keelyn Lions stopped by the garden to hide a painted rock.
“I was happy to see the City doing something with it,” McCarthy said about the formally neglected parcel.
The native garden features different themed areas, like the “Blue Garden,” a desert area and a vegetable garden.
Many of the plants were selected to specifically appeal to native bees and butterflies, and there is a dazzling array of flowers including bachelor buttons, clarkia, cream cups, Chinese houses and poppies.
“We have a wildflower meadow. March is going to be really spectacular down here,” said Allen.
The neighborhood association holds weeding parties and under each oak tree there is a rock with a street name to encourage the residents of that street to maintain a 10-foot circle around the tree.
Along with being a beautiful place for the community gather, the garden also serves as an example of how to landscape using native plants.
“It’s been a goal for the people of Modesto to change their thinking about landscape and use native plants, which local pollinators need,” said Allen. “I’d like to get people see this garden and get inspiration; think of native bees and butterflies and give them a habitat.”
Allen said she learned a lot about native plants through the process of designing the garden and plans to continue that education through a naturalist course at the University of California, Merced.
“I wish all our cities would plant native gardens,” she said.
Those interested in donating to the La Loma Native Garden can visit https://www.gofundme.com/la-loma-neighborhood-improvements or make a check out to Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. and put “La Loma” in the subject line and mail it to 1112 Highland Avenue, Modesto 95354.
Upcoming events at the native garden can be found at: facebook.com/lalomaneighborhood