Cultivating a Culture of Gardening™

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Fresh Look at Community Gardens

Some neighborhood friendships start over coffee, some start on playgrounds, and some start over the garden fence; my friendship with Jean, however, started over weeds. I was entering my second hour of pulling weeds, having just rescued my remaining crocus from being pulled up by my eager-to-help five year old son, when Jean drove up beside me. Rolling down the window she hollered out, “Seems like those weeds just come up overnight no matter how much you work.” I looked up into the smiling eyes of a kindred spirit and was soon enjoying a few minutes of banter about herbicide, rabbit control, and five year olds who mistake crocus leaves for wild onions. A conversation with strangers is not that unusual as I garden along my neighborhood street, and it was a few days later before I learned that this kindred spirit was my neighbor’s mom who had just moved in one street over.

Jean stopped by again to ask about garden shops and stayed for a good hour as we walked through my garden inspecting what was blooming, what was coming, and what had already shown all its glory. She was just starting her new garden and was learning our schizophrenic hardiness zone, but she had been a gardener for decades. She held a wealth of practical knowledge in growing things that spilled out from her as we talked. During that first year I was able to enjoy Jean’s impromptu visits as she passed by on her way to see her daughter. And every visit I’d learn a little something about gathering seeds or dividing plants (wait until it’s warm to divide your daylilies) or which plants attract birds (Echinacea and rudbeckia for bringing in goldfinch; hibiscus and lobelia for hummingbirds).

Over the following years Jean began hiring my sons to water her garden or mow while she was out of town. I would come over to inspect their work and enjoyed watching the progress of her developing landscape. Late one July she helped me divide my iris, taking a few to add to her perennial bed. One fall afternoon I found a ziplock bag full on envelopes containing seeds that Jean had collected from her summer garden. Dianthus, poppies, larkspur, and various other collections came complete with instructions like, “Don’t plant until after the last frost.” Encroaching age had limited my friend’s long distance driving, but allowed me the opportunity to drive her to garden shows, stuffing my car so full of plants we literally had them in our laps as we traveled home from our horticultural escapades.

As a retired headmistress in a metro area school area, Jean could easily slip into her school marm shoes to chastise me for watering my plants too late in the day (or forgetting to water them at all!) Her reprimands mirrored her concern for lost potential, having seen in her years of education the importance of nurturing those things we value. Our gardens became an alternative “schoolhouse” – a place for discipline, instruction, dealing with garden bullies (invasive plants), seeing beauty come from something others thought hopeless (she was always bringing home neglected plants from the back shelves of big box stores), or just persevering year after year because that is simply what one has to do to get the job done.

My friend has slowed down a good bit in the last couple of years, my five year old is now 17 and a highly skilled weeder (but don’t tell him that you heard that from me), and Jean’s empty courtyard is a flowering paradise complete with secret garden. Somewhere along the way we discovered the broader meaning of community gardening. In the sharing of seeds and plants and advice and manual labor, community found its place in each of our gardens.

Photos are plants in my garden shared from a friend.


At January 9, 2010 at 2:59 PM , Blogger Brooke (CreativeCountryMom) said...

Oh Barbara, that is so sweet. Thanks for sharing!

At January 9, 2010 at 3:51 PM , Blogger Anna said...

I enjoyed your post. It's great when you make friends with kindred spirits :)


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