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July 20, 2017
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OMCA is in Full Bloom This Summer

Our Not-So-Secret Vegetable Garden

By Emily Holmes

With breezy open-air walkways, multi-tiered garden terraces, and ample lawn space—a favorite spot for Friday Nights @ OMCA visitors, the Oakland Museum of California is a truly Californian building, inside and out. If you’re looking for things to do in Oakland during summer, you could easily spend a full day outside at OMCA after exploring our core galleries and special exhibitions. On these hot summer days, you just might want to!

Next time you’re heading outside to enjoy lunch at the Blue Oak café or a picnic in our Gardens, keep an eye out for our not-so-secret vegetable garden. Located on the second floor patio near David Anderson’s Tilden Lights (1974), an abstract welded steel sculpture, you’ll likely notice the sweet smell of basil first, before you find stray pumpkin vines sneaking over the confines of a concrete planter. It’s our OMCA staff vegetable garden, an experiment that burst into full bloom this summer.

The idea sparked after our outdoors grounds crew renovated an unused patio space, and an empty plant bed revealed itself in an unexpectedly prime location for that Oakland sun to do its thing. Two OMCA staffers, Facilities Manager Zoli Novak and Manager of Living Collections Tom Law, got to work on the garden, bringing their green thumbs and knowledge of the campus’ greenery to the task.

Tom and Zoli added compost and mulch to the soil, allowing the ground to lay fallow for several months in late winter. Come April, the vegetable garden was ready for planting an array of vegetables and herbs. The plants began to blossom and, seemingly overnight, out sprang zucchinis, eggplants, basil, parsley, and thyme. Soon after, snap peas, purple bell peppers, and whole onions appeared, much to OMCA staffers’ delight.

Oakland is a particularly great place for growing produce, as the ample sunlight works wonders on a young garden. Additionally, strategic planting choices can help abate pests to increase growth. For example, tomato and basil already make a delicious pairing to our tastebuds, but did you know they also are good garden buddies? The basil acts as a natural pest repellent for many tomato-loving bugs. Adding onions around the garden’s edges and near other plants likewise deters some insects. It’s all about the harmony in this vegetable garden.

What started as an experimental small garden plot has quickly turned into a staff favorite, fueling a shared joy over fresh produce and bringing all of us closer to the natural environment around us. Passing by the garden serves as a helpful reminder for us to stop and smell the roses—or, in this case, rosemary. Graphic Designer Mae Isidro says, “I love seeing the lush garden outside my office! When I need a break, I can pause to hang out among the peas and basil.”   

Did you know that OMCA’s outdoor grounds has been a long-time host to other edible and aromatic plants? For example, the vegetable garden bed is located near a flourishing kumquat tree, and rosemary bushes can be found on all levels of the grounds. Elsewhere, discerning horticulturists (and local birds!) might spot gooseberries and currants. And, of course, fragrant jasmine graces many central walkways and parameters of the museum—another sensorially pleasing perk of OMCA’s iconic Californian architecture.

Come by to see all that OMCA’s Gardens have to offer on your next visit! We invite you to look and take a sniff, but please don’t pick or eat. Looking for more education and inspiration around urban gardening? Stay tuned! We’ve got an incredible exhibit coming up this winter called Take Root: Oakland Grows Food, opening on December 16. Until then, enjoy the summer and consider shopping at your local farmer’s market to get a taste of your own freshly picked and locally grown bounty.