Inside Arlington are the folks who keep us growing. In this column, we interview capri kasai, Garden Educator, and Tahereh Sheerazie, Head Gardener, who reflect on gardening, Arlington Garden, and themselves.
AG: What are your responsibilities at Arlington?
capri kasai: the webster’s dictionary definition for gardener is as follows: a person who tends and cultivates a garden as a pastime or for a living. arlington’s definition for gardener is as follows: tender to plants old and new, keeper of the orange grove, sidekick to (and often botherer of) tahereh, workshop facilitator, tour guide, exuberant educator of those big and small, trash picker upper, composter, incredibly delayed email replier, information desk, community member, and the list goes on, but i shall stop there 🙂
Pictured: staff and volunteers who support our PUSD garden tours (L to R) Michelle, Christine, Heather, Tahereh, capri, William, and Antonio.
Tahereh Sheerazie: As “Lead Gardener,” my job is to make sure all is up to snuff at the garden and sometimes cajole, request, or insist that everyone else also keep up with the snuffing aka weeding, mulching, pruning, feeding, keeping pathways accessible and trash invisible, plants hydrated and visitors welcome–barring those [visitors] who [knowingly] stomp in the beds during peak wildflower months to take selfies or prom pictures!
I also talk to everyone who visits and wants to chat – often sharing planting, growing, caring knowledge, and then selling marmalade and promoting our monthly workshops. I also manage Tuesday volunteering, which is where I began my direct engagement with the garden in 2021. Tuesdays are what I enjoy most, since we all know each other well and enjoy the weekly camaraderie. Needless to say, the volunteers’ help moves the needle tremendously and allows for my job to be part-time.
Along with my fellow part-time co-workers and volunteers, I also conduct the weekly PUSD fifth grade field trips [see photo above]. It’s a new thing at Arlington, and it’s been great!
AG: How did you discover Arlington?
capri: a previous partner of mine told me about arlington a few years ago! they had a friend who was facilitating native plant walks at arlington and we visited at their suggestion. instantly i was wowed with the beauty and serenity of the garden and at that moment i knew i wanted to be involved and have been ever since!
Tahereh: I lived very close to the garden when it was an empty lot, and saw it morph into its various iterations over the years. Sometimes if I wanted house guests to stay out of my hair for a bit I’d drop them off to marvel at Arlington. It always worked. In 2021 as part of my UCCE Master Gardener volunteer hours I requested that Arlington be added to the approved list of venues. I got to fulfill my volunteer hours in a place I was very familiar with and enjoyed being at, pulling weeds, pruning, sweeping, mulching, planting and making new friends.
Pictured: capri and Nandi assisting with the garden shed expansion in 2022.
AG: What appeals to you about gardens or gardening?
capri: the natural world, baby!!! unfortunately things like capitalism and paying rent feel more “natural” to people than gardening does 🙁 when in fact humankind has coevolved alongside flora long before the advent of industry!!!
i love that land tending acts as a conduit by connecting me to my ancestors and to everyone that has ever lived, because we are only alive today because of plantkind 🙂 what a humbling experience and an honor to tend to the beings that tend to us 🙂
Tahereh: The “tactile-hands-in-the-dirt” nature of gardening is the best part of it for me. As for gardens, the less manicured, the more exciting they are to visit and spend time in. Arlington is one such garden.
Pictured: Tahereh demonstrating the gigantic size of of a weeds pile pulled by the volunteers in the background.
AG: What is one thing you like about Arlington?
capri: one of my favorite things about arlington is how much i get to engage with the public! after working for a private landscaping business, it is a relief to work in the public sector where people who frequent the garden are there because they want to be and not because they can afford to be. the demographic is intergenerational, multicultural, and proves to be an inclusive space for all (even though there’s some accessibility we can improve upon).
however, in that same vein, there are also some people that perform some destructive behaviors and even though cleaning up broken bottles and trash isn’t how i like to spend my time, it does really make me consider how to best reach each of my neighbors, so that we can have an understanding about respecting ourselves and one another, what individual and community support and accountability looks like, and how the garden can best foster those relationships as a public space.
Tahereh: The garden’s varied ‘rooms’ provide shelter, solace and home to all kinds of birds, bees, humans and other critters that make it their permanent/temporary respite being in an urban enclave.
AG: What is your favorite plant in the Garden?
capri: i’m not the best at superlatives, but i would have to say hummingbird sage or pitcher sage for their delightful fragrance and soft leaves. yarrow and the santa cruz island ironwood are a close second because their fern shaped leaves are so darn cute!!!
Tahereh: I can’t say that I have one particular plant that I favor, but I do love all the varieties of trees that make up the backbone of the garden’s habitat, shade and comfort.
AG: What do you like to do when not working at Arlington?
capri: i write, shop on ebay, acquire cowboy regalia, draw, sew, collage, spend time with loved ones, cook, and laugh-o-lot 🙂
Tahereh: Garden some more and work with fabric. I also hike almost as incessantly as I garden. You’ll find me on Sundays in the Church of the San Gabriels, somewhere where there isn’t a trail, or in the mountains of northern Pakistan in mid-summer, when I can get there.
Pictured: capri instructing botanical salve-making workshop.
AG: What do you envision for the future of our Southern California landscape?
capri: i envision increasingly inclement weather. i won’t get too cynical, but i’m afraid for many communities in southern california, particularly houseless communities and communities of color who will disproportionately bear the brunt of climate crisis.
on the bright side, i also envision resistance, a resurgence of native plants in public and private spaces, seedbombing and total upheaval of golf courses, guerilla gardening, repurposing of water fixtures including pools and waterparks, camaraderie, and a better understanding, desire, and really an imperative urge to connect with the landscape in a decolonized manner to simultaneously extend and enhance our existence on earth.
Tahereh: I imagine it will be much drier, looking a lot more like northern Baja California and still beautiful. I envision that our landscapes will reflect a deeper appreciation and love of native plants and that more-and-more Californians will create private and public landscapes that mimic the diverse plant communities of our inland and coastal terrain. Gardening will become a lot less resource intensive, less daunting, more informal; which isn’t to say we won’t be needing volunteers to help us weed, mulch, prune, and feed our landscapes!
Pictured: Tahereh working at the never-ending mulch-pile. Credit: Shirley Huang.
AG: Tell us something else about yourself!
capri: i literally only wear the color brown (and realtree, if that’s considered a color), although white does get an honorable mention, even if it doesn’t stay white for very long!
Tahereh: I was a bookkeeper (much hated), a school garden educator (much loved), and a hiking fiend. Did I mention working with fabric?