One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thoughts on Urban Gardening

 Reading Tam’s June twenty-eighth post, The Landscape of Root, inspired me to get out in my own tiny urban garden, to scrub out the birdbath, thin the heavenly scented rose geranium and coax the climbing hydrangea to grab hold of the scrim it’s meant to cover. 

Shaded by multi-story houses on three sides and a tall fence on the other, my little garden will only tolerate low light natives, although the small potted citrus tree has bravely endured the lack of light, with a single orange that has been growing slow and steady for the past 18 months—now nearly two inches in diameter! I praise its efforts and do not openly compare it to the more prolific members of its kind. (I know how disheartening that can be!)

In San Francisco, where houses stand shoulder to shoulder with little more than a few inches in between, and tiny backyards are shaded by surrounding buildings, people have learned to be innovative; some try container gardening, others have planted vertical wall gardens. But many have turned to community gardens to grow their flowers, veggies and herbs. There are over forty community gardens in the city, accommodating anywhere from six to a hundred twenty-five gardeners.

The community garden in upper Fort Mason is one of the largest and most abundant; here gardeners grow everything from roses to dahlias, apples to lemons, artichokes to pumpkins. The wait list is years long for a plot.

My husband David (who has never taken any previous interest in gardening) had a sudden hankering to grow some vegetables last month. He went out and got a twelve inch pot, a bag of dirt and six two inch Kentucky Wonder Bean starts, and set them up in the sunny corner of our kitchen. 

In the past month, the story of Jack and The Beanstalk has moved from folktale to non-fiction, with the plants now towering well over eight feet tall and the leaves the size of elephant ears. Well, baby elephant ears, anyway. It’s quite astonishing. A recent visitor mentioned the issue of pollination; we worried but then learned that beans are self-pollinating, so we will not need to bring bees into the house.

Some years ago when visiting a friend’s parents in a small rural town in Switzerland, where everyone has at least an acre-sized yard filled with flowers and vegetables, I commented on how surprised I was to see a huge community garden on the edge of town. I was told it was for city people who would make the hour drive from Basel to dig in the soil and tend their plants. Turns out, it’s a common practice in Switzerland; you can buy a tiny plot, big enough to construct one or two raised beds and a small shed that for many, not only house trowels and hoes, but a cot and a hot plate, so the gardener can spend the night. I love the idea of urbanites driving to the suburbs to work and sleep in their gardens. Someone even built a bee chapel on their plot—a tiny hive-filled church with mail-slot sized windows for the bees to come and go.

As Nature Deficit Syndrome becomes more of a recognized issue for urban children, parents and educators are pressing for school gardens. Once the privileged domain of private schools with expandable budgets, many public schools in San Francisco are now finding ways to make space and fund a school garden. Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Pringle have written a fantastic book, How To Grow a School Garden, that will tell you everything you need to know from why to how, including ideas for fund-raising. Check out what School Garden Weekly has to say about it:

Gardens and gardening have been used as life metaphors for centuries. When Voltaire said, ‘We must cultivate our garden,’ we understand that he was talking about more than tomato plants. May Sarton is quoted as saying, ‘A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.’ Osho, said, ‘Life is a garden. It is an opportunity. You can grow weeds, you can grow roses; it all depends on you.’ And it was Abraham Lincoln who said, ‘You can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.’

There are also many apt garden metaphors for the writing life, where the writer can be seen as both garden and gardener. We must plant seeds through contemplation, experience and research, we must dig deep in ourselves for our seeds to take root, we must nourish ourselves with reading, classes, and community, we must devotedly tend the seeds we plant with our focused time, protecting them from too much exposure early on and we must thin out and continually weed in order for our creation to blossom and come to full maturity.

I will leave you with a blessing from Thich Nhat Hanh;
May our heart's garden of awakening bloom with hundreds of flowers.

Take Good Care, 


1 comment:

  1. I LOVE this Sharry. Your bean plant is INCREDIBLE...