Sharing the wealth from our gardens

One of the earliest gardens I cultivated was in a community garden on the grounds of a city park on Bainbridge Island, Wash. Community gardens — or as I was accustomed to calling them, pea patches — are widespread around Puget Sound, and this little patch had all the benefits of sun, water and decent soil that my apartment lacked.

Even in an area where homes with acreage are not uncommon, there was a years-long waiting list for a garden space. Because of the height and number of Douglas firs, even homeowners sometimes needed to seek out sunny community gardens. With all the cloudy weather, a full day of sun was an absolute prerequisite if you wanted to get a ripe tomato before the season's end.

A lovely sense of camaraderie existed between those of us fortunate enough to grow there, especially during the tilling season. The soil had a fair amount of clay, but as dedicated gardeners we were all a bit obsessive about adding compost. I was particularly good at making compost and loved the compliments I received for that, as much as the ones I received for my actual sugar snap peas and broccoli.

I used one of those inexpensive plastic compost containers, the black one with the big holes in the sides. About every other week or so I used to "water" it with diluted Alaskan fish fertilizer, thus adding the nitrogen necessary for decomposition. It was quite lovely at the end of the season, evidence of beginner's luck.

Back then I didn't really know much about gardening organically, and my cohorts at the pea patch were happy to offer information and inspiration. Oh yes, it was also a good way to get plants. If you didn't have room any more, you could just dig up a perennial and stash it on the side of the growing area. First come, first served.

I'm writing about community gardens because I wish we had more of them, for the reasons above and for the added food security and nutrition it provides families. Wherever and whenever it is done, gardening connects you to the reality of the place you are in — the real need for rain, warmth, heat and the cold, too. It makes fruits and vegetables, even the store-bought ones, much more real. It helps one be realistic, which is why I think school gardens are so important.

This weekend, there's a community garden celebration in Ashland organized by the Ashland Wellness Directory. Lisa Pavati, the director of the project, intuitively sees how neighbors gardening together makes neighborhoods more enjoyable places to live. Social science research shows that participation in community activities makes a significant difference in people's sense of well-being and enjoyment.

So for your food supply and your well-being, you might want to check out her program at http://ashlandwellnessguide.com/ngp.html. The fee is reasonable — on a sliding scale from $5-15 — and includes a home consultation to enhance your garden success by Ashland permaculturist Scott Maguire, a garden handbook and a workshop. I'd call that a deal.

Tomorrow's event begins at 10 a.m. and runs till evening at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. It's a launch for the project, though you don't have to attend to join. Check out the workshop schedule online before you go. A seed swap and garden panel are included in the lineup.

You'll find more information about starting seeds in the next edition of Homelife magazine, which will arrive in your newspaper March 26.

Althea Godfrey is gardening editor for HomeLife magazine. Reach her at writealthea@charter.net.

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