Work on Our City Forest’s educational site at Martial Cottle County Park is gathering steam. Under the leadership of AmeriCorps member Kevin Nee, and with the help of community volunteers and other members of AmeriCorps, OCF is adding walking paths to the site as well as a demonstration of “lawn busting”-- an OCF service that converts traditional lawns to attractive, water-saving landscapes.   

The lawn busting exhibit uses a sequence of five separate garden plots, each dedicated to a particular phase of the conversion process: 1. the original grass lawn; 2. trenching the lawn’s perimeter, building a mound, and installing a pressure regulator for drip irrigation; 3. covering the grass with cardboard; 4. adding soil amendment and irrigation line; and 5. planting drought-resistant shrubs topped off with a thick layer of mulch. (For more information on lawn busting see last year's blog article, “Two Days in the Life of a Lawn Buster.” February 12, 2016)

Watch step by step tutorial videos on the Our City Forest Youtube page!

Save the date - May 6: Martial Cottle Park Spring Celebration - We will be hosting our first lawn conversion workshops on our site during the event, one in the AM and one in the PM.

Martial Cottle Park - Our City Forest site

Other projects that will get underway soon are the installation of an irrigation system for watering the site’s nascent arboretum (it comprises 50 trees in a wide selection of species) and the creation of a large garden of California native plants, which OCF emphasizes at its nursery and community plantings. Eventually, OCF hopes to add an enhanced picnic area and outdoor classroom for educational presentations.

Kevin took the lead at Martial Cottle because he saw a project that needed jump-starting. He says that someone has to move a project along, and once done progress then builds on itself. “The more I do, the more people in the neighborhood out walking stop to ask about it.”  The same applies to potential volunteers; the more attractive the project the greater the turnout of volunteers.  Few people want to start a project from scratch in a field of tumbleweeds.

The Martial Cottle project is right up Kevin’s alley. First, he has ample experience in arboriculture and carpentry.  For OCF he has served on dozens of lawn conversion projects, planted trees, worked at the nursery, and manned information tables at fairs. Before joining OCF, he held jobs in South America that drew on the same skills that Martial Cottle requires.  He performed trail maintenance and planted trees at Patagonia National Park in Chile. He worked for a self-sustaining organic farm in Argentina and at a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation service in Ecuador (the animals most commonly aided there are monkeys, kinkajous, and turtles).  Later, at a resort in Wisconsin, Kevin restored vintage cabins and built pathways.

Second, Kevin is an advocate of recycling. “Working at those places [in South America] showed me how to do a lot with a little. When you’re working at a wildlife rescue in the middle of the jungle, you have to make do with what you can find.” His belief in recycling is evident at Martial Cottle. For example, both the lawn busting exhibit and the new walking path have wooden borders that Kevin fashioned from retired 2” diameter tree stakes.They are connected with pins cut from “L bars” (the foot long bar that is pounded into the ground to stabilize steel Reddy Stakes). Each of the five plots in the lawn busting exhibit has an artful representation of a house facing its lawn, again made from old tree stakes.  All of the mulch used at Martial Cottle to date has been surplus from completed lawn busts or provided by tree care companies.

“The only thing we’ve spent money on so far is screws.”

Our City Forest’s presence at Martial Cottle began in April 2014 when it was granted two acres along the Park’s southern boundary by Santa Clara County. The County gave OCF use of the site for the purpose of educating the general public in urban forestry and related topics such as propagating plants and trees, tree care, and practicing “water-wise” gardeners. OCF welcomes volunteers seeking first-hand experience in these areas.

Adjacent to OCF’s acreage are two other “partner sites” that maintain the Park’s emphasis on agriculture and horticulture: UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and 4H. Jacob’s Farm, which grows organic fruits and vegetables, is the largest site within Martial Cottle; its 180 acres comprise almost two-thirds of the Park.

The Cottle family ranch its dates from 1864 when former New Englander Edward Cottle acquired a portion of Rancho Santa Teresa. Cottle raised cattle and dairy cows and planted grains and row crops. Eventually, Cottle divided the 350-acre parcel between his sons Martial and Warren and the land continued to be farmed until 2014 when Cottle’s last living heir, Walter Cottle Lester, died. In keeping with his mother’s wishes, the Cottle-Lester farm upon his death was transferred to Santa Clara County to be used as an educational example of Santa Clara Valley’s agricultural past.

Along with its educational importance and remembrance of the Valley’s past, Martial Cottle is a welcome break from San Jose’s suburban sprawl, a fact not lost on the many walkers, runners, and picnickers who enjoy the Park’s quiet and expanse. As Kevin said in reference to the absence of buildings and tall structures, “When I come to Martial Cottle I realize we truly are in a valley.” Yes, and truly in the Valley of the Heart's Delight.

How you can help!

Donate directly to Martial Cottle Park by going to: - add a note to your donation saying you wish for it to go to our site at Martial Cottle Park or mail a check to 1590 Las Plumas Ave. San José, CA 95133.

Volunteer! Our team is out there every Friday from 9AM-noon and sometimes on other days too. If you have a different time and day that you can volunteer, email and let us know your availability.