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New vegetable garden takes root at Franklin Building

Stefani Leto with some of the vegetables harvested from the garden.

On the west side of the Franklin fifth-floor patio, a new vegetable and herb garden is taking root — and it all began with OP staff members with a love of gardening.

Fresh herbs from basil and cilantro to lemon balm and parsley are flourishing under the sun. Vegetables — cucumbers, Mexican sour gherkins, beans, tomatoes, kale, lettuce and peppers ranging from the hot Thai pepper to the milder padron pepper — are sprouting from the dirt.

And it’s all available to OP staff, who are welcome to help themselves.

“We want people to come enjoy it,” said Stefani Leto, a policy analyst with the Office of the Secretary of the Regents, as she pruned a Thai basil plant in the garden. “They can take a little bit: some mint for their tea, some tomatoes, some peppers. If there’s any doubt if it’s ripe, they can ask me.”

Leto is the brainchild behind the new garden. She used to have a garden at her old house, and missed it when she moved to a new place that does not have a yard. When she joined the Health Committee of the President’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women, she suggested starting a vegetable garden that OP staff could enjoy. The idea took off.

With support from the Building and Administrative Services Center (BASC), gardeners cleared the thick shrubs from the flower bed on the west end of the Franklin patio to make way for a new garden and made improvements to the irrigation system.

Leto and other volunteers began planting in May. Beth Kellman, senior events planner in BASC’s Event Services Team, gave many of the plants a head start by growing them first in small pots at her Hercules home, where the weather is warmer.

“When you start a seed, it’s very delicate. If you put them directly in the dirt, bugs and insects will eat them and they won’t have a chance to grow,” Kellman said. “It’s usually better if you can nurture the seeds in little pots, wait for them to grow some roots, then plant them in the garden.”

Once the plants were about 6 inches tall, she brought them to the Franklin building and placed them in the garden, where many have begun producing vegetables.

“We’ve also planted some sunflowers so once those bloom, people can have a flower on their desk if they want,” Leto said.

The group is learning what vegetables will grow best in the Oakland climate, and plan to focus on crops that don’t require a lot of heat. Leafy greens and green onions will likely be on the fall and winter schedule.

“I used to never leave my desk but now I’m motivated to come out once a day to check on the plants, so that has been healthy for me,” Kellman said. “I hope people will come out and enjoy it too.”

Leto and Kellman tend the garden regularly, and other volunteers are welcome. If you’re interested in joining, send an email to

Comments ( 2 )

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  1. Ginny August 28, 2018 Reply

    Thank you for doing this! Gardens are so therapeutic.

  2. Lena October 23, 2018 Reply

    What a perfect use of this space. I wish I were closer to enjoy the bounty — leafy greens, yum! Thanks to Stefani and everyone who is contributing to our UCOP garden.

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