The transformative power of planting season

LASHP Park Champions (7)

Melissa Potts at Los Angeles State Historic Park

By Melissa Potts, Programs Coordinator

I confess…. I LOVE plants. Before joining California State Parks Foundation in September, I was a park interpreter for three years. Interpreter in the parks world means that it was my job to learn about the natural environment and California’s history and share that knowledge with park visitors.  I was astounded to find that no matter what my topic was, I could find a way to tell that story by talking about plants!

Plants are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem, supporting a variety of wildlife – everything from the smallest insects to the largest mammals. They transport us to the past when we learn that humans once utilized our native plants for food, shelter and medicine.

Plants also have the power to bring people together and build community in our state parks. This coming together of community is the power that drives California State Parks Foundation’s volunteer program. We’re currently entering a special time of year that seems to get volunteers of all ages excited: between now and March, it’s planting season!

The weather is cooling down and there is promise of rainfall, which means that


Melissa assisting a volunteer with planting at Los Angeles State Historic Park

volunteers across the state will gear up with gloves, tools and their very own native plants – all supplies provided by California State Parks Foundation – to put in the ground. Volunteers, whether first-timers or planting pros, will gather together to learn a few planting tips before beginning:

Step 1: Dig the hole. If it hasn’t rained recently, the soil may be dry and compacted, so be prepared because this could take a while. You can pair up with a friend for this endeavor or make a new one!

Step 2: Get the measurements just right – your plant can’t be in a hole that’s too shallow or too deep

Step 3: It’s time to place your plant in the hole and gently fill it in with dirt.

Step 4: Your plant’s first watering is the MOST important one, so be generous.

Step 5:  It’s likely we have a few hundred more plants, so if you’d like, repeat!

You may find later, that somewhere between steps 1-5 you became invested. Many volunteers who return to the park take a detour just to check up on the little plant they put in the ground months before. There is a pride in seeing the plants flourish and even a tinge of worry when they look a bit ragged.

Planting season is fun for volunteers and while the land is transformed, it seems volunteers walk away a little changed, too. For some, it was the first time digging a hole or smelling a sage plant. Our returning volunteers love to be able to give back to their parks. Elementary school students experienced a completely different kind of field trip – they loved to take extra time to name their plants and put rocks around their newly planted buckwheat, so they can come back and show their parents.  Others find that it strengthens and creates connections to the parks – it makes you feel like it really is your park.  These connections are what makes planting season so special and it reminds us all that the beauty of our state parks is that they all belong to all of us.

Experience this special connection in person by registering for a volunteer day near you. See our calendar and map of upcoming parks and dates here.