Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Beginnings of My Community Garden

How It All Begain:
It was the first day of the 2007, gray and blowing sideways rain, when I climbed in my car and headed toward the Park’s Department headquarters. The wind had howled around my condo building all night, waking me frequently. I was tired when I arrived at the building at the required 8 a.m., that is if I wanted to possibly secure a garden plot in the local community garden. And I did want one, since the five-story brick building is surrounded with pavement and cement. My place is small and I don’t have a balcony. I’m happy living within walking distance of the grocery, pharmacy, doctor, library, bookstore, beauty shop, gift store, restaurants, and more, and I needed dirt beneath my fingernails in order to survive.

When I arrived at Cornwall Park, the doors to the tiny headquarters where locked and two folks sat on the bench on the porch waiting. I waited in the car for a few moments, yawning in the semi-light, watching the bending trees through a rain splattered windshield. As it turned out, by the time the doors opened, there were four of us greeted by the cheery woman who just happened to have four plots available for the much coveted community gardens in Fairhaven.
I paid my $18.00, which secured my plot for a year. I went home with a sheet of rules and waited out the rest of the rainy winter. The main rule for this community garden, is that it must be gardened. No over-grow patches with gnarly weeds. But who wouldn’t want to get their hands in the earth and raise up vegetables for their dinner table?

And it’s a nice piece of land set back in from the street. Plum trees edge one side of the garden and down the bank from those, runs a salmon stream. The property is divvied up into 34 plots, 10’ x 20’ each. Some folks have two plots. There is a garden shed outfitted with a wheel barrel, rakes, hoes, shovels, trowels, and claws. There are hoses and hose bibs conveniently located around the yard, although the hose closest to my plot is kinked in several places, and has already caused me enough frustration that I might consider donating a new hose to the project. The Parks and Rec pays for the water, mows the lawn surrounding the plots, and maintains a compost pile, rock pile, as well as empties trash. Another of the community garden is tilled by a park crew each spring. That didn’t happen in this garden, perhaps because many people have been working theirs plots for years. Some have built raised beds, others have made paths of bricks and added scrolled iron arbors strategically placed, other permanent structures for trailing plants would be difficult to maneuver around. Another reason for leaving the spring soil mixing to the renters, is a winter crop of barley and pea may be turned at the desired time. Or plastic milk-containers covering delicate plants line rows of cabbage plants before anyone has turned over a shovel full.

Everyone has a different method, some tried and true, other’s obvious experimentations. A new gardener who signed up the day I did, said he bought plugs of lettuce from Joe’s Garden, a well known neighborhood garden that raises and sells vegetables locally. Already his garden has four-inch lettuce plants for .20 each, which I had to admit, was a good deal and looked impressive. However, I’m a bit of a die hard. Opening seed packages and wrangling little black and brown bits from my palm to soil gives me a surge of satisfaction I just don’t get from planting a dozen half-mature plants down the rows. It’s one of those amazing things in the universe—plants sprouting from hard little bits of seed. Just amazing.

My seeds are already up: bok choy, broccoli raab, sugar peas, lettuce, potatoes, and sweet peas, although the soil is in obvious need of amendment. I will add organic fertilizer and perhaps collect clean grass clippings to mulch with—that is if I can catch the park mower and finagle his clippings. Or like my neighbor to the north did last year, I could mulch with burlap bags. I need to mulch fairly soon, in fact the bok choy is large enough to thin. I had my first meal of chicken and stir fry greens just the other night.

I designed my plot a little differently from my usual gardens of the past, long parallel rows equally spaced, nicely mulched walking rows in between. First I made a teepee of ten-foot sticks in the center for the sweet peas to climb. I’ve begun to work on a little rock walkway leading to the flowers where I plan on sitting a chair for contemplative times on lazy summer afternoon.
At the front edge, the edge facing my neighbors, lettuce is planted in two semi-circles. At the center of the semi-circles, I will plant flowers. I don’t usually plant flowers in a vegetable garden, but my neighbor with the extra zucchini told me that everyone should plant flowers, since the overall affect of the gardens is so beautiful. I remember quite a few big dahlias or zinnias or filmy cosmos adding to the cacophony of color last summer.

The community idea of gardening is a good one, although I haven’t experienced yet how shareful or each-to-his-own the gardeners will be, besides my immediate neighbors that is. I came over and watered their gardens last fall while they were on a trip to the Caribbean. They left just as the tomatoes were coming on and I froze a lot of tomato soup, trying to keep up with their crop. I’ve planted one tomato plant this year, and am questioning whether or not to plant zucchini, since last year I had my fill of it

Since I’ve taken to living my life in a more European style, village living I could call it, where I can walk to most everything I need. Having this garden and the grounds surrounding it will not only be a haven for me to rest in, but listening to the stream running past and the birds singing, and watching an occasional deer wander though, will really complete the life I’ve built.

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