With spring officially starting this week, my mind is singularly focused on the garden. I’m anxious, okay, downright worried about what havoc this particularly brutal winter has wrought. With my garden’s Open Day approaching on May 10, I’m feeling the pressure. Thats less than two months away! There is still a fair amount of snow over places I need to get to inorder to prune the roses, plant a tree, spray the espalier (dormant oil and fish emulsion) and so much else. Take a deep breath! I tell myself. And I do. To panic is pointless and I know not to fight nature. I’ll just stick to getting organized and approach the task of getting the garden in shape systematically and with mindful presence. Aaah! Already that feels better.
With gardening foremost in mind, I’ve taken to observing the various community gardens in the city (NYC). Over the years, more and more of them have been created. I’m in the city a great deal and as I walk around, the diversity and uniqueness of these gardens is apparent even when nothing is growing at the moment. The layout of the gardens, the types of paths, the ‘décor’ with statuary and other whimsies and even the shapes of the beds say a great deal about the gardeners and the neighborhoods. I just love it all. This year, I plan to stop by as many of the gardens during the growing season. With any luck, I’ll get to meet and learn from some of the gardeners.
Back in suburbia, community gardens are less common. With most folk residing in houses with adjoining property and lack of land for communal use, their proliferation is naturally restricted. However, the practice is catching on as more people are becoming keen to grow their own produce and towns and certain private organizations are permitting the use of their land for very little or no fees.
Having heard from many about lack of time, not having enough suitable space for a proper potager on their own property, reluctance to be gardening ‘far off’ from home, I’ve been toying with the idea of an alternative sort of community garden.
What if within a neighborhood, each home grows just one sort of vegetable or fruit that then can be shared with the others? Depending on the conditions available – semi-shade, full sun, protected or open areas, arbor space, I would guess that a fair amount of produce can be grown. With attention and time to just one type of plant, the gardener can easily include their cultivation in busy schedules. Case in point – in my own garden, I don’t have the type of light and space to grow a wide range of veggies. So, I concentrate on leafy greens – assorted lettuces, arugula, Swiss chard, mustard and plenty of herbs which do very well. Tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables, eggplants, gourds etc are simply not worth the struggle. Not to mention, a waste of time and energy. Its like cultivating the $40 tomato. But somebody else’s garden might happily support a crop of squash or tomatoes. You get the idea? Once a week, all produce can be brought in to a central location and distributed equally. A block party of sorts! Every year, each gardener tries a different yet suitable vegetable to maintain soil strength. With everybody receiving a fair share, the neighborhood gets to eat better but even more importantly, it grows a better community. Each home is vitally connected to the others. Instead of Facebook time we now have face-to-face time.
Of course, like any project, this requires some leadership but that can be taken on a rotation basis. What practices (organic of course!) are acceptable, the selection of vegetables that suit all, how much to grow, vacation schedules, are some of the points to be duly considered ahead of time and by consensus. Those unable to garden due to disabilities, age, or lack of garden space can help in the harvesting, sorting, communications etc., The success of such an endeavor is incumbent on close cooperation of all members but it is so very doable. As in life, keeping a sense of humor is essential. As much as it is a serious business to grow crops, this should be fun. After all, if we cannot come together to grow and share our food, how on earth can we expect peace talks to succeed in different parts of the world? Imagine the valuable lessons children will gain from this experience. I see this undertaking as one that promotes health and well-being at many different levels.
A neighborhood that “comes to table” together,thrives together.
(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar
Mark your calender – Open Day at my garden is Saturday May 10, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.