Living and Learning

Benicia Sustainable Backyard

Food Forest Keepers: Stacy and Leslie

When we searching for a house in Benicia after moving from Vermont, it was the amazing yard that sold us to buy this particular house. We had been gardeners in Vermont (with it’s intense but short growing season) and wanted to pursue that here, but the thought of fixing and maintaining our broken down 12- zone huge irrigation system seemed so against the nature of living in a State that is almost always in a drought- so we turned it off and waited to see what would happen. It has actually naturalized and adjusted quite well, and we did small annual, perennial and container planting over the years. What we never could decide on was a vision: something that incorporated our beliefs about our environment and brought together stewardship, conservation, and a belief that there was a way to create lush landscaping that went beyond form: something functional and productive. Meeting and chatting with the Sustainable Food Forest folks one night was a revelation and the Living and Learning Garden was born. The process of applying and getting ready for the installation was truly an adventure: we really had no idea what would actually happen as there is not exactly a set of manuals and a long history in Benicia for this. What we did have was trust, which sustained us through the rain delays and uncertainty. What we have now is an amazing transformed space- both in the front and side of the house that is growing beyond our original hope. The challenges of taking the seed plot so graciously created by the community, and expanding both the content and the skills needed to develop it are what really excite us. The joy of picking the raspberries and strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants, herbs, and flowers has really transformed our interaction and appreciation of our outdoor spaces. And the kids love it!

Site Details

Installation Date:

April 2016


1800 square feet

Sun Exposure:

6-8 hours



Number of Swales:


Secondary Water:

Lawn Conversion


Laundry-to-Landscape Greywater System

Roofwater Diverted to Swales

Total annual water impact:

90,656 gallons


Designer: David Mudge

Plant List:

Almond, Apricot, Fig, Fuji Apple, Lemon, Pluot, Pomegranate
Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry
Borage, Comfrey, Lavendar, Lemon Balm, Leonitis, Parsley, Penstemon, Sage, Salvia, Yarrow
Clovers, Nasturtium, Strawberries
Beets, Sunchoke


The installations were truly an exercise in faith in community. We had several significant rain delays (the irony of too much natural water did not escape us) making the yard unworkable. Our trust in Elena and David (and the Greywater Alliance) were what sustained us, since we just couldn’t imagine why a bunch of people we didn’t know would spend a day digging and getting dirty (and on the greywater day, extremely muddy!). But come they did, and the breakfast sessions and lunch tables with all those helping folks are a reason that we feel joy and magic every time we step in our garden. Everyone worked incredibly hard, with constant problem- solving, consultation and cooperation the order of the day(s), kids and adults alike. And while we will enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of these labors for years to come, what was really planted was a connection to this community.

Vision for the Future:

Having toured other gardens that have matured and developed, we know we have a long way to go. We are not sure what we enjoy most, the garden itself, the delicious yield from the installation, or the joy and anticipation we have pushing our gardening skills and visions far beyond what we ever imagined. We hope that in a few years we will have transformed far more of our garden, now that we know how. We hope that others watching our garden become so productive are inspired to jump off that cliff. We envision eventually even having boxes on the street to share the bounty with our neighbors.