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Jail inmates create lovely demo gardens, and gardeners find great deals

An educational program that started as a way to help county jail inmates change their lives and develop practical skills has evolved into a popular nursery open to the public.

North County Detention Facility inmates operate the Jail Industries Plant Nursery under the supervision of their instructor, Rick Stern. The public is invited to browse several acres of plants at spring and fall sales, or by appointment, at the jail garden located next to the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. The nursery includes 30,000 annuals, perennials, trees, vegetable starts, vines, shrubs, and groundcover grown in compost without fertilizers or pesticides.

The students have created several demonstration gardens at the entrance featuring a hummingbird habitat, a garden with plants that attract butterflies and an area of drought-tolerant plants that do well in this climate.

The extensive gardens have become the darlings of professional gardeners and landscapers, and many send prospective clients and customers to the reliable displays to get a good visual overview of plants, shrubs and trees for their own projects.

The five-acre jail garden includes two acres set aside for food production, with produce going first to the jail kitchen and the remainder going to nonprofit groups, including the Ceres Project and the Redwood Empire Food Bank.

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