- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
Finding Community in the Garden
Gardens can mean so many things to people. They can be a source of beauty and joy, a source of nutritious and delicious food, a connection to our loved ones and people we have lost or young people in our lives, a source of scientific mystery and wonder or a source of peace and solitude. Until I became a Master Gardener I was missing out on one of the great things that gardens can be. It was something that I had benefited from and enjoyed, but I hadn't articulated it being a feature or value of gardening. I had always viewed gardening as a solo activity, but when I would think back on my memories of gardening I realized that they always included loved ones, family and friends and even the occasional stranger. Together we shared a moment of botanical wonder in a public garden or even on the side of the road. That is when I realized that community can be found and is an essential part of gardening!
I had always felt that since I had spaces to garden when I was a kid and now, or when I was too busy to do much more then container garden when I was first living on my own, I didn't need to go to a community garden. I thought they were great options for people who did not have a place of their own to garden, sort of like renting a storage unit if you needed more space. Boy, was I wrong! I have had the privilege to work with a variety of community gardens since becoming a Master Gardener and learn what special places they are! Some have been small plots on university campuses or apartment buildings; some have been vast community gardens that just sort of envelop you when you walk in; and, some have been hidden corners of parking lots that you would never notice when you drive by. With all the different forms community gardens take on, they all have one thing in common, and that is heart. They are wonderful
While we have spent these last many weeks staying away from our friends and sometimes families, I have seen that the connection of “community” in the garden is so strong that it transcends physical distance. I have seen gardeners sharing seeds from safe distances, seen them answering questions about where one might get soil or plants. I have seen and taught classes online and seen the kind nature of gardeners everywhere, not being competitive, but trying to elevate their fellow gardeners so that we can all do it together. I have been touched by this desire to connect and grow, and share. It seems like one of the most beautiful elements of humanity is when we come together to create.
I have always been a person that has been OK alone, out in the wilderness miles from anyone else, deep under the sea alone with the fish, or in my garden all by myself, and this is a quality I find in common with many gardeners. The events of the last few months have caused much suffering, loss and anxiety but they have also highlighted for me the value of togetherness. I have newfound appreciation for the smile on someone's face, for the sharing of ideas with another person face to face and for the joy I get from being with people who share my love for gardening. I have also seen the strength of the bonds I have with my fellow gardeners, both with people I know and people I don't know. While doing our online “Ask a Master Gardener” Zoom time I have bonded with people I have never seen, people who I might have never met under normal circumstances and people who I might not, on the surface, have much in common with. But we share the love of growing and desire to see beauty around us, the desire to create habitats for the small critters around us, the desire to grow our own food, and the joy we get from nurturing the soil and the planet.
I have concluded that community gardens are not only a place for people to go when they do not have their own place to grow (but they are good for that too!) but they are so much more. They are a heart and soul for the community they are in. They are a place of sharing and giving, where community members can sit down and talk about more than just gardening. They can dream of a better community and brainstorm how to elevate their lives and the lives of those around them. It is a place of social activism and of social bonding where differences can melt away and be celebrated and shared. One of our community partners, Huerta Del Valle, frequently talks about the vision of there being a community garden every mil, and that togetherness, sharing, learning, bonding and growing would go light years to create a healthier planet, a healthier community and healthier us. So many of our Master Gardeners work with community gardens beyond just their Master Gardener commitments and really, deeply understand their vital role in society and our ecosystem. If you haven't checked out a community garden near you, I encourage you to do so when we are able to safely be out and about again. In next month's newsletter we will be including a list of all the community gardens in the county. If you don't see your local community garden on that list be sure to email us and we will add it to the list. After all, it's takes a community to build these connections together!