20 Years of Gothic Gardening – Cultivating Native Plants in a Historic Cemetery

garden-sign - musto

Sacramento Valley Chapter’s California Native Plant Demonstration Garden in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery – Photos by Cassandra Nguyen Musto

On a cloudy and chilly Sunday morning in January 1997, a hardy group of citizens came together and sowed native wildflower seeds in ten, long-neglected plots within the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery. This group was composed of a few members of the Sacramento Valley Chapter, Sacramento City and County staff, and folks from the community who answered the call in the local newspaper for garden volunteers. Before this group started their work that morning, the irrigation system was non-existent and weeds and scraggly ornamentals grew in crumbling plots.

redbud - mustoToday, there is still no irrigation system (other than the hose bibs distributed throughout the garden), and crumbling plots are still being repaired. However, thousands of hours of laboring later, those ten plots have expanded to over 100 plots covering 3/4 of an acre containing 125 different species of California native plants. This gothic garden now pulses and hums with life from the numerous species of songbirds, native bees, and other pollinators that seek cover and food. I like to think that our historic residents appreciate the work we have done for their resting places as we tidy up their monuments and repair their beds, as well as the hundreds of living human visitors who have also enjoyed this native plant sanctuary in the middle of the city.

As one of the garden co-founders and now the primary garden coordinator, volunteering in the garden for most of its twenty years has been immensely satisfying. I continue to meet wonderful people who come to volunteer or happen to stop by to visit the garden. I particularly enjoy helping visitors visualize a water-wise home garden that showcases California’s rich botanic history and supports our songbirds and beneficial insects.

2016-0628_LHSFbee-sneezeweed.jpgWhat might the next twenty years hold? Our hardy little group of volunteers will continue our core mission of educating the public about the benefits and beauty of native plants. We’ll do this by refining the garden layout and design, adding more plant species to the garden, hosting more garden tours, and adding workshops for the public. If you would like a tour of the garden or would like to find out how to volunteer to help us reach our goals, feel free to contact me!


Cassandra Nguyen Musto

CA Native Plant Demonstration Garden Chair
CNPS – Sacramento Valley Chapter

Cassandra is a native Californian, landscape architect, restoration ecologist, and watercolor painter. She became a CNPS member of the Sacramento Valley chapter in Fall 1996 after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and moving to Sacramento. When she’s not landscaping, restoring, or painting, you might find her flower peeping during a desert Super Bloom, stand-up paddleboarding, native plant shopping, or skiing.

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