Garden Gurus are improving Pacific Beach one weed and plant at a time
When you see a problem, Pacific Beach resident Susan Crowers believes you have two options — you can complain about it or do something.
As chair of the PB Town Council Enhancement Committee, Crowers, along with a handful of volunteers, is determined to do something. And she is hoping more PB residents and businesses will join in to help.
The committee formed the Garden Gurus last September and set about solving the problem of some neglected garden and landscape areas across town.
They started by cleaning up some weedy medians, many which serve as the entrances into their community.
They then turned their attention to the PB wave sign on Grand Avenue, which had also fallen into disrepair. They weeded and repaired the sign as part of that project.
“We did a lot of work around the sign and received such a positive response,” Crowers said.
Even before the Garden Gurus formed, Crowers said she approached the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department about improving the area between Crown Point Drive and Ingraham Street.
“There is a bus stop there with four park benches and it was overgrown with weeds. It did, however, have a handful of beautiful palm trees and a few good succulents,” she said.
The pandemic meant it was a year before volunteers could actually start the project. But as soon as they were allowed, they began demolition and weeding.
Crowers said Parks and Recreation agreed to supply plants and soil amendments, fix the broken irrigation system and help with removal of some bigger stumps.
Crowers said she and her sister provided the design plan. The Garden Gurus supplied the hard labor, which including removing dead and dying scrubs, and weeding without the use of any chemicals.
“It took months to complete,” Crowers said of the project that has taken the group 120 hours. “We used all drought tolerant selections and it will take a year or two to completely fill in. And of course, we are still doing some weeding.”
Although the work can be physically demanding, Crowers stressed it is also very rewarding.
“People who enjoy weeding, for example, can see immediate results and feel a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “But the social aspect is just as rewarding. We usually go out for coffee and croissants afterwards. It’s been a real bonding experience and pleasure to work with like-minded community members.”
A PB resident of 35 years, Leslie Dufour is part of the Garden Gurus and said the group has been very inspirational to her and others in the community.
“What’s better than hanging out with friends, improving a neighborhood and having fun, all at the same time?” Dufour asked. “It really is fun with a purpose.”
“You can’t improve a neighborhood working alone. But it’s all about caring — and doing something that shows that our people and our community care — both locals and visitors need to see that,” she said.
After volunteering with the Gurus on the Crown Point project, Dufour suggested they next work on making improvements to Garnet Avenue, especially by planting trees to increase the tree canopy in town.
“I think beauty, trees and greenery are fundamental to the quality of life in a community. If you don’t have those things, it’s just not as fun to live there,” Dufour said, when speaking about the need for trees and the shade they provide.
Meeting once a week for three months, the group spent more than 130 hours taking care of the tree wells on the street. Every well was a mini-project in itself, as some contained palms, some deciduous trees, while others were empty.
Not only did the volunteers end up weeding the wells, in many cases they planted trees or succulents not just in the wells, but in empty planters in front of some storefronts.
To back up her words, Dufour she is planting, watering, weeding and more nearly every day.
“All of the volunteers spend a couple of hours a week watering either new or established trees and plants,” she said, noting it can take one to three hours a day, several days a week. “But we want to inspire the businesses in our area, as well as the community members, to care about our neighborhoods.”
Although it’s been slow going, Crowers said one of the Gurus’ goals is getting business owners and landlords to sign up for the city’s free tree program. Although it requires a commitment to water the tree for the first three years, the city provides the tree, digs the hole, plants and stakes it.
Crowers added the Gurus realize many business owners didn’t set out to become gardeners, and by working with block captains they have passed out letters letting business leaders know what they are doing and why.
Started by Eve Anderson and co-sponsored by the PB Town Council and PB Planning Group in partnership with Discover PB, the Garnet Block Captain Program is described as a kind of neighborhood watch for the business district, allowing them to connect and share information. Crowers said some businesses on Garnet have been very generous in letting the group use their water for the trees on their block.
Not all projects the Garden Gurus take on are as large as the Garnet Avenue tree wells, such as when a community member asked for help with a weedy area at the foot of Loring Street overlooking the ocean.
“Some neighbors had done the initial planting, but then the weeds took over. We pulled out all the weeds and gave the area new life. It was a fun project,” Crowers said.
Other projects have included taking care of a planter at Fanuel Street Park to topping off the bluffs on Loring Street.
Although there is no shortage of community beautification projects the group would like to tackle, Crowers and Dufour stressed that more volunteers are sorely needed.
“The PBTC Enhancers group has a trash pickup and weed abatement day, and we tend to get a big community response for those. Between 20 and 40 volunteers will show up,” Crowers said. “We would love to have a similar response to our Garden Gurus group.”
The women agree that volunteers reap multiple rewards for their efforts.
“I look forward to getting out of bed on Thursday morning and seeing everyone for a couple of hours. We all love getting together. And there’s immediate satisfaction every time we volunteer,” Crowers said.
“When there is more of us, more people are inspired to help. And it’s fun,” said Dufour.
For details on joining the PB Garden Gurus, visit pbtowncouncil.org/garden-gurus. The group meets every Thursday morning. Emails are sent out beforehand, letting members know the day’s project and location. To be added to the list email email@example.com.
Volunteers can also be added to the email list for the PBTC Enhancers, which meets monthly from 8 to 10 a.m. on the second Saturday. Send an email to general@PBTC.org. This group is taking August off, so its next gathering will be Sept. 10.