Friday, April 1, 2011

Garden Sharing


Patricia on opening day
at Venice Yacht Club
 My friend and fellow novelist Patricia Sanders lives on a sailboat in Santa Monica Harbor where she’s finishing her new book. Problem is – she loves to garden. A life-long gardener, Sanders earned her Master Gardener certificate at Clemson University, and took extra sustainable gardening classes through Santa Monica's Office of Sustainability and the Environment. But, she finds gardening is an itch that can’t be scratched on a sailboat.

To solve the problem, she joined the Garden Sharing Registry offered by Santa Monica's Community Recreation Division. The program connects groundless gardeners with homeowners who need help tending their yards. City staff put together the idea for the registry in 2009 and the program got off the ground in 2010, said Wendy Pietrzak, of the Community Recreation Division.

In a recent Santa Monica Daily Press article on the new program, Patricia explained that she grew up in South Carolina on a 10-acre property. Farming and tending the land was a way of life, not a pastime. "It's just what you did," she told the reporter. She said she views gardening as a way to engage with the plants, soil and earth, and stretch her sea legs, get away from the grind of working on her novel.

Patricia, left, gardening partner Jeff Sullivan,
and homeowner Jin Yang making
plans for Yang's garden 
Local homeowners Jin Yang and his wife, Huili Gao, also had a problem that many people share — a spacious backyard, perfect for gardening, but no time to tend it. "I leave for work at 7 in the morning and come back between 6 and 7 in the evening," Yang said. "The kids go to school. There's no time to take care of the garden."

Enter Patricia and fellow garden enthusiast Jeff Sullivan. Jeff maintains a garden plot in the City of Venice, but felt he needed more dirt. With Santa Monica’s registry, potential gardeners provide information on their gardening background and style and then the registry prepares a list of names and profiles to the homeowner to choose from.

This approach to shared gardening can not only be a blessing to busy homeowners, it also might benefit the elderly who need some extra help, new moms and those with mobility and health issues. Beautiful, productive gardens benefit everybody.

"The city has three community gardens with 120 plots," Wendy said. "At one point, the waiting list was above 200." That number is now closer to 140, the Santa Monica Daily Press reports, but without much turnover at the plots, it's hard to whittle down the list. The shared garden program is a way to link up those hundreds of willing hands with people who otherwise can’t cultivate their garden spaces.

Although shared gardening is relatively new, community gardens have always been popular—from the Victory Gardens of WWII to the People’s Gardens of the 1960s. Economic times and the crush of urban living continue to support the interest. In my community, which once was the province of truck farms that produced a bounty of fresh vegetables for those living in the Sacramento area, there’s a huge community garden tended by young and old, recent immigrants and long-time residents. The plots stretch for blocks under high-voltage utility lines, ground that otherwise would go unused.

Peralta Community Garden, Berkeley, CA
Although not as romantic as some influential community gardens, such as the Clinton Street garden in the middle of Manhattan in New York City, and the Peralta garden in Berkeley, California, that was inspired by architect and community garden visionary Karl Linn, our local community plots reflect the personalities and interests of the gardeners.

Community gardens continue to be gathering places for neighbors and a showcase for art and ecological awareness, with food production only one part of the larger vision. In other places, community gardens are devoted entirely to creating ecological green space or habitat, still others for flower growing and outdoor classrooms.

Patricia says so far her garden match in Santa Monica has worked pretty well. She has plotted out the space with the homeowners and expects to spend a few hours a week getting ready for spring planting. Along the way, she’ll be creating what French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud calls "relational art," community gardens as "a set of artistic practices, which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure, the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space."

Patricia's green bean crop from last year.
The American Community Gardening Association recognizes that community gardening improves people’s quality of life by bringing neighbors and neighborhoods together. Gardening is a great workout, it improves mental health, produces nutritious food, draws families together, offers teaching opportunities, protects the environment and, in the case of my friend Patricia, it also offers space to create in an otherwise cramped world.

ACGA and its member organizations support all aspects of community food and ornamental gardening, urban forestry, preservation and management of open space. The association helps with forming and expanding state and regional community gardening networks; developing resources in support of community gardening; and, encouraging research and conducting educational programs.

Contact your community’s recreation or public service department to find out about community gardening opportunities. If they don’t have a garden sharing program, you might suggest they start one. Send photos of your community gardens to share with Word Garden visitors. To learn more about Patricia and her creative work, visit her on facebook at: Jazz, Poetry and Chocolate. Thanks, and see you in the garden.