Ridge Road Garden Center

November 15, 2010


The sky was gray and light sprinkles appeared off-and-on most of the morning. Regardless, I wanted to check out Ridge Road Garden Center mentioned at many of the workshops sponsored by the Amador County Master Gardeners.

I drove on Highway 88 through the Sierra Nevada scenic route toward the nursery in Pine Grove. After I arrived, I parked my car, opened the door, and immediately felt the chilly mountain air. My breath was visible like steam from a cup of hot chocolate. Nevertheless, the cheery flowers on either side of the nursery’s sign told me this was going to be worth any discomfort I felt.

Sure enough, as I walked past winter vegetables, colorful annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, a beautiful raised bed caught my attention. I checked it out for a few minutes, and then decided it was getting too cold and headed home. Impressed, though, with the raised bed, I returned a few days later to meet Salye LaBelle who manages the nursery for her parents, Bob and Libby Jones.

Salye eagerly shared that it was one of her employees, Stephanie Thomas, who came up with the idea of turning an existing 4 x 75-foot bare-root bin into a children’s garden. They started adding an organic blend of topsoil and compost over six-to-eight inches of sand. Next, a children’s tunnel was installed by using a row of hooped conduits for vegetables to grow on. At the west end of the bed, a teepee made of tall bamboo stakes provides a hiding place beneath trailing vegetables like peas, beans, or cucumbers.

To demonstrate how to sow winter seeds outdoors, and to protect seedlings from harsh weather, Salye and her crew decided to place a cold frame on top of the bed. Cold frames give plants a good start because the frame is bottomless and the roots have plenty of depth to grow before transplanting. Once the large items were in place, cedar steps were weaved throughout the bed. Then Stephanie and Salye launched a class to teach children how to plant winter vegetables.

“We tried to make it fun.” Salye said, “So they could check on the garden and it would be like a little play area and vegetable garden that they had a part in.”

Around twenty children (pre-school age to ten year-olds) arrived with their parents and little hand shovels. The children learned how to plant cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, flowers, and a variety of lettuces.

“Many of the children enjoyed the experience, and their parents bought vegetables to take home to start their own little garden, “Salye said. “We’re going to do another children’s planting day next spring. We’ll keep changing it with the seasons.”

Rain or sunshine, Salye also provides a variety of demonstration classes for grown ups. For information on these and other services, call Salye at 209-296-7210, or go to the Center’s website at www.ridgeroadgardencenter.com.

Salye’s Tips for Creating a Children’s Garden:

  • Make it fun; add interesting elements.
  • Use soil with good drainage; explain the importance of soil
  • Hoops are nice for playing under, frost protection, and for vines.
  • Teach children to get winter vegetables in early (before it’s to cold).
  • Use a cold frame to teach children about germination and protecting tender plants.


  1. This reminds me of a Community Garden I participated in with my granddaughter many years ago. I was babysitting and needed to do some researfh at the library, so I took my 7 year old charge in tow. I noticed a children’s program on ‘gardening’ was just starting, so I dropped her off and went about my research. It will be a nice surprise to take home a ‘potted plant’ to her mom, I thought.

    Little did I realize, that it wasn’t a ‘potting plant’ seminar for kids, it was an authentic “Commlunity Vegetable Garden” where kids were signed up a ‘patch’ on some donated land in the area.

    Needless to say, it wasn’t what I had anticipated, but we did participate and hoed, seeded, watered and weeded all summer long and did reap some bounty from our efforts.

    It was a learning experience for all and remains a memory forever, rather than a ‘potted flower’.

    Opportunities for children to participate in wholesome meaningful activities can be far, few and in between. Take the opportunity when it arises, you won’t be sorry.


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