In Gratitude: Recognizing Board President Marilyn Bardet’s Selfless Service to SuSol

By Sustainable Solano

In January, Marilyn Bardet will step down from the board president role she has held for the past 18 years. Sustainable Solano would not have grown into the organization it is today without her leadership, guidance, wisdom and trust. We are grateful for all she has brought to the organization.

Back in 2005 a tiny fledgling nonprofit, Benicia Community Gardens, was going through turmoil — after the death of founder Dr. Swenson, the remaining board had no vision and no capacity to continue forward. There was just one garden then, at Heritage Presbyterian Church, now carrying the name of the founder, Swenson Garden. The board put out a call for help to the community, and one of the people who stepped forward was a local artist and environmental activist, Marilyn Bardet. The board dropped the documents on her lap and left.

That’s how Marilyn started on a difficult path of being board president. There was nothing glamorous about this role — it was a hard labor of love. Together with a small group of new board volunteers, Marilyn not only saved Swenson Garden and the community that formed around it, but secured funding for the second garden in Benicia — Avant Garden, now a beloved institution on First Street. Avant Garden started with a bare patch of land. The original garden beds were made of straw and each straw bale was laid down by the hard-working volunteer board. They carried soil, spread mulch, installed irrigation, built the fence and invited the community to join in. Hard work and a steadfast commitment to the vision made it a garden that became a true Benicia town square.

The work did not stop there — the nonprofit continued to reinvent itself in response to the needs of the community and a vision for a better future for all, expanding the vision to local sustainable food, planting a community orchard, running educational programs, developing a Community Supported Agriculture hub in Benicia, and envisioning and implementing a Benicia Sustainable Backyard program: permaculture-based demonstration gardens in private homes that became the base for community education and inspiration.

Marilyn was at the heart of all these initiatives. The programs were growing, the organization was rooting. It required dedication and more hard work to secure funding, build the board, support the team and develop relationships with key stakeholders in the county. When in 2016 we took a leap of faith to become Sustainable Solano, Marilyn’s authentic leadership and support for the vision led us safely and successfully through the passage of scaling up successful Benicia programs to the county level.


Board President Marilyn Bardet

Marilyn, you gave so much in all these years! Countless hours at the board and team meetings; scientific research and artwork; numerous meetings with, and calls and letters to the key stakeholders; late nights with grant deadlines; long (and sometimes difficult) conversations; personal funds, and wisdom, trust and pure love given so freely and selflessly.

As you are stepping down from the board president role, we want you to remember that your selfless service has formed the very foundation of the organization you’ve been leading for 18 years!

In deep gratitude,
The board and the team of Sustainable Solano 

Why Hampton Bay HOA Decided on Sustainable Landscaping

By Rick Theisen, Hampton Bay HOA Board Member / Treasurer

We’ve worked closely with Rick and the Hampton Bay landscape committee in a partnership to demonstrate how a waterwise, beautiful native garden could replace water-hungry lawns in HOA common areas. Here, Rick offers some insight on that partnership and the first pilot project.

Prior to the 2016-2017 rainy season, the wettest on record, most of the state was experiencing increasingly worsening drought conditions. At one point, people were doing the odd and even dance to conserve water. Remember that? But, after the 2016-17 rainfall, most thought that we were out of the woods. Virtually the entire state was transformed. No more drought, said some! Reservoirs were refilled to capacity. A harbinger of good things to come!?

A couple of us that had been on the board of the Hampton Bay association, at that time for more than 15 years and intimately familiar with the finances, weren’t so sure about the optimistic prospects. There were other factors in play for our community that were compelling us to think otherwise. Common area landscaping was relatively vast with large swaths of grass that required a great deal of water. The plants and shrubs were aging and outdated — most installed at the community’s inception 40 years ago. Most of the irrigation was the original equipment — inefficient and high maintenance spray heads in the plant and shrub perimeter areas, as well. And, to exacerbate matters, the city was steadily increasing the water and sewer rates. So, we were having to increase association dues more than desired due to the rising costs of water and related landscape maintenance.

We knew we couldn’t sustain the path we were on and were also a bit cynical of the drought prospects, suspecting that the overabundance of rain in the 2016-17 season was a teaser by mother nature. In retrospect it was, of course, a fluke year in a worsening 20-year, some say 100-year, drought.

So, we began a campaign advocating to the other homeowners (100 units) for a complete transformation of the common area landscape and irrigation in an effort to mitigate increasing water usage costs and thereby curtailing future dues hikes. It was a challenge at first because the word “drought” was no longer front and center in the media. However, over the next one to two years as talks of the drought resurfaced, the reality we were trying to convey — steadily increasing water/sewer rates, increasing landscape and irrigation maintenance costs and, of course, dues increases — started to bear fruit.  Slowly homeowners began to jump on board.

We developed a three-phase implementation strategy over a two- to three-year period that would allow us to stagger the costs. One of the members of the landscape committee, which we had formed specifically for this broader transformation project, had prior experience with a nonprofit whose mission was to assist the residents and merchants of Solano County to conserve water by adopting sustainable landscaping methods. Prior to the beginning of Phase III (the conversion of the larger areas of grass) we met with Sustainable Solano (SuSol) and immediately realized the benefits of sustainable landscaping. We were hooked.

Hampton Bay HOA Project Slideshow

Hampton Bay HOA Project

We designated a large grassy area as a pilot so that we may learn to adapt the sustainable methods to our unique environment. Michael Wedgley, the SuSol designer and soil enrichment consultant, proposed a design consisting of a variety of true California native plants, water catchment basins (swales), a basic pipe system to divert the nearby roof’s runoff to the swales and wood mulch to help retain moisture. The long-time and trusted gardener for our association implemented the design including a very efficient drip system to help the plants take root, of course.

Keep in mind that we were doing this during the pandemic and experienced several delays due to lockdowns, supply shortages, crew shortages and illness. It took longer than expected, but the end result began to garner approval from homeowners. We observed that the native plants were taking root almost immediately and within a few short weeks had noticeably grown.

In this large pilot area, with the new drip system combined with the moisture-containing properties of mulch, we calculated a water savings between 70 to 90%. Because we installed true California native plants, the theory is that within one to two years we’ll be able to turn off the drip irrigation and save 100%. It will definitely pay for itself over the long term. We’re looking forward to converting the remaining large grassy areas in our community.

You can learn more about the partnership with Hampton Bay HOA here, including information about building healthy soil and garden designs.

Learn more about this pilot project here, including details on plants used, rainwater capture and water savings.

Big Gardens in Small Spaces: Adventures in Container Gardening

By Blesilda Ocampo

Blesilda attended the recent workshop on Big Gardens in Small Spaces and volunteered to write a blog about her experience for us. We appreciate her insight! Lori Caldwell will return to lead a workshop on worm composting on Oct. 6 in Benicia. You can register for that workshop here.

Lori Caldwell

I am a beginner gardener. I had attended one of several online workshops taught by Lori Caldwell through Sustainable Solano last year. She is a consultant, landscaper and educator, aka CompostGal on social media. I enjoyed her presentation and decided to go to an in-person event now that the pandemic restrictions have eased up. She was very informative and great about answering everyone’s questions, which I really appreciated as I had many questions myself.

I attended the free workshop on Saturday, Aug. 27. I drove all the way to the Suisun City public library from Vallejo on my way to a memorial service that afternoon. I was dressed for a memorial service while everyone was in their weekend clothes of leggings or jeans and T-shirts.

There were over 25 participants, many of which were experienced home gardeners and some were new ones, like myself. Adopt a Neighborhood, a volunteer beautification project in Suisun City, and Sustainable Solano collaborated to support people growing food in small spaces. Together, they brought Lori Caldwell back to teach an in-person class on how to grow food in small spaces.

Snacks were provided and lots of handouts filled with information were passed out.

The presentation was incredibly informative. Lori’s warm, friendly and easy-going manner made the class that much more enjoyable. She taught using language that was easy to understand and a format that was easy to follow. Her handwritten outline on the flipchart in front of the class was available for everyone to see.

She talked about the benefits of container gardening, soil nutrition, companion planting, how to deal with pests and, of course, compost. I appreciate the reference guides provided in the handouts for further reading.

I am more informed about what nutrition I can add to my soil. I also learned that lemons and avocados can grow in containers; but dwarf versions will do best.

I attend these kinds of classes to get more information about gardening from an expert and to connect with other gardeners who are struggling or not; some of them seemed seasoned. It’s really great to have a place to go to bring my questions along and to get ideas I can try at home.

Big Gardens in Small Spaces

Unable to attend the in-person workshop, but still interested in learning more about container gardening? Watch this video of an earlier online talk from Lori Caldwell on container gardening.

(You can also find more videos and additional garden resources here)

Simple Greywater Systems Bring Laundry Water to Your Landscape

By Sustainable Solano

Participants learn how to install a laundry-to-landscape greywater system at a Vallejo home

With California in a state of severe to exceptional drought, it is a good time to think of water conservation and reuse to keep your trees and shrubs alive during the dry months.

Sustainable Solano works with our partner organization, Greywater Action, to bring hands-on workshops to Solano County where you can learn how to install a laundry-to-landscape system at your home. These simple systems reuse water from your washing machine to irrigate mulch basins, often around trees, in your yard. The systems require a few tweaks in habits – you have to use specific kinds of laundry detergents that will be kind to your plants and have to remember to switch the three-way valve to send water to the sewer when using bleach, washing diapers, etc. But it is a great way to reuse water to keep your landscape healthy.

SuSol is currently looking for Solano homeowners who are interested in hosting one of these workshops. Homes must meet certain criteria to be a good site for a workshop, for example the washing machine must be located by an exterior wall. Simpler setups are best for teaching others how to install a system at home. If you would be interested in welcoming community members to your home to get your laundry-to-landscape system going, please fill out the interest form at this link:

We will review the interest form and contact those with compatible homes for a site visit.

Drip Irrigation Class Provides Hands-on Opportunities

By Heidi Varian

Heidi hosted the drip irrigation workshop a historic home in Benicia that she is restoring with some friends to create a site people can visit for an “eco-vacation.”  The site will also be the location for the upcoming Permaculture Design Certificate course. Learn more about that here!

The Sustainable Solano drip irrigation class started out with good feelings right from the beginning of the day. The best part of getting back to some sense of normalcy after the pandemic is to be outdoors, hands in the soil, and experiencing the camaraderie that you can’t have over Zoom.

There were familiar faces and new students. The teaching garden was quiet, shady and calm. Instructor Seth Wright of Water Service Irrigation Co. was appreciated as clear and understandable. Overheard were comments about his good energy and relatable teaching style. He came prepared with visual aids and a white board presentation to augment and clarify his lecture.

Sustainable Solano’s Michael Wedgley prepared his garden with a unique and creative guild design, sample swale area, raised bed for the class to learn, and provided a display of permaculture literature. He also presented a piece of PVC pipe cut to the length of the space desired between the drip lines to simplify and speed up the process of hands-on installation.

When Seth began the participation part of the class, the class needed very little encouragement to join in the learning and fun. Everyone had an opportunity to measure, cut, and connect the system.

Michael and Seth as a team facilitated a very efficient install and even had time to discuss troubleshooting. The culmination of the workshop was flushing the lines and the cascading water drew applause.

Drip Irrigation Basics

Unable to attend the in-person workshop, but still interested in how you can put drip irrigation to use for water savings at home? Check out this online talk with Seth Wright of Water Service.

2022 Fairfield & Vacaville Demonstration Food Forest Tour: Featured Gardens

Scroll through the list below to read about the Fairfield and Vacaville gardens that are featured on this year’s Demonstration Food Forest Tour!

Gardens will be open from 9 am-1 pm Saturday, June 4. You can pick up your itinerary for this self-guided tour at a permaculture demonstration farm site in Vacaville from 9-11 am. And don’t miss these special additions:

  • 11 am: Greywater talk and laundry-to-landscape greywater system tour with Greywater Action at Healthy Futures garden
    • Greywater installer Andrea Lara will be on-site to give a talk on using your laundry water to irrigate your landscape and will give a tour of the laundry-to-landscape greywater system.
  • 10 am-12 pm: Expert advice on chicken-keeping and food forest plant selection at Mangia garden
    • Master Gardener Tina Saravia will be on-site to answer questions about backyard chickens and food forest garden plants that thrive in Solano County.

Register for the June 4 tour here!

Fairfield Demonstration Food Forest Gardens

Magical Garden

This garden was a front lawn conversion in 2019. It is filled with vegetables, fruits, herbs and more, building healthy soil and harvesting water from the roof.

Home to hummingbirds, bees, ladybugs and other beneficial insects, the garden sparks conversation with the neighbors and offers bountiful produce to share.

Learn more

Mom’s Delight

Installed in 2017, this backyard food forest has 21 fruit trees pruned annually to 5 feet, making it easier to access the fruit. The majority of the trees are watered by rain funneled into a swale, while others are watered from the laundry-to-landscape greywater system. An automatic drip system is used during the dry periods. All the fruits are shared with neighbors, friends and family. Additional plantings of salvia and calendula draw in honey bees and hummingbirds.

Learn more

Vacaville Demonstration Food Forest Gardens

Blooming Beneficial Biome

This food forest garden was a front yard lawn conversion and displays what can be accomplished in less than 18 months.

Building healthy soil and harvesting rainwater in an in-ground swale, the garden supports fruit trees, asparagus, pollinator plants and more.

Learn more

Healthy Futures

This garden has eight thriving fruit trees in a small front yard, as well as a plethora of herbaceous and shrub plants. The vegetation is watered through a combination of swales that collect rainwater, greywater from the laundry, and (rarely utilized) drip irrigation. The yard has, like any good forest should, taken on a life and energy of its own, constantly changing and morphing year over year, but never failing to provide the residents, neighbors, and several local food banks with fruits and vegetables.

During the tour Andrea Lara from Greywater Action will give a talk at 11 am on greywater and tour the existing laundry-to-landscape system. There will be time for questions.

Learn more

Vacaville’s Westgate Wonderland Neighborhood

(These next three gardens are within walking distance of each other)


This three-year-old front yard garden welcomes the neighborhood to pick as they please. The yard extends to the backyard with pollinator plants intermixed with edibles, chickens, repurposed items, a native sedge field and so much more. This yard integrates systems to benefit the whole property.

During the tour Master Gardener Tina Saravia will be on-site to answer questions about backyard chickens and food forest plants.

Learn more

Our Shepherd’s Heart

This newly established front yard garden was installed in May 2021 with the focus on growing food and a desire to share with neighbors. A large swale in the front wraps around the yard and supports fruit trees and pollinators.

Learn more

Orchid Lily

This small, beautiful, low maintenance front yard garden offers easy access to culinary herbs and three fruit tree guilds supported with yarrow, comfrey and borage.

Learn more

We are incredibly grateful for the generous support of our funders. The Solano County Water Agency continues to support the Sustainable Backyard Program throughout the county. Solano Sustainable Backyard Program short videos: Waterwise and Building Gardens and Community. Occasionally we combine funding from other programs to make larger projects possible.