One of the hardest things about leaving our old (way too small) house was leaving the garden. But we split and collected transplants of several things that could be worked in April, and thought they would be happy enough in pots until they can go in ground. For a full greenhouse of seedlings, we searched for a community garden plot near the new home so we could plant in ground right away, even as the new house had to wait for grading and driveway and landscaping before we could plant a single thing. I was so thrilled to find an organic community garden just 2 miles from home. We reserved our plot when we were still packing boxes at the old house. We went on weekends to hand till and weed and prep before we even moved. In the early days we didn't know anything about the new garden. The people, the soil, the weeds, the sun, the animals. We just knew we needed a plot since we would not have any garden beds until who knows when.
The new house had come together so suddenly that every seedling already started was planned for the old house. I had flats and flats of plants which were primarily for part sun, dense rich soil, and high moisture - we had worked so long on the old garden to get the soil to produce so heavily in a small space. We planted anyway. We discovered early on that the new soil was dense and compact. Not very high in nitrogen. And the weeds!!! The first month or two we went to the community garden the weeds were the conversation starters. Every person would stop, introduce themselves, and talk about the weeds. Last year they almost gave up. Last year they did give up. The weeds and thistles explained all of the interesting contraptions in other plots, the haybales, the large sheets of plastic, and the expensive raised beds. We re-worked half of the plot to cover it in weed barrier and added as much compost as we could. As things came in very yellow, people would stop to chat and tell us all about how this used to be a pond bed, then corn fields, and then just grass and weeds. About the river. About the deer whose tracks we found in all of the holes torn into the weed barrier.
As things were tweaked and supplemented and new things planted, people would stop to chat about different plants and ask what is this, what is that. Gardeners at the next plot over would sit and weed and chat while we watered. We weeded the paths, added more mulch, filled out our sheets for garden hours. We found a turtle nest in the compost and another gardener got a marker while we found a plot marker and string to rope it off so nobody would dig there. Everyone has avoided that spot since then, and the turtle eggs are carefully covered back up after any rain. For months there were spots with stakes and neon pink tape to protect the killdeer nests that were nestled in along the paths.
As the garden has grown we have kept weeding and watering. And every time we are there someone stops to chat. About those purple tomatoes. About how big the squash are. In that time we have organized some tools, re-wrapped hoses, weeded and mulched the paths some more, there has been a shed built, a vegetable washing station was installed, people have weeded and watered plots for people out of town or with health problems. Every time we are there, someone comes up with another gardener we have not met yet, and introduces them. The garden has young families, kids, dinks, chefs, retirees, school groups, volunteer groups, and the local food pantry has raised beds. We are next to a bike path so often cyclists will stop and walk over, read the signs, and walk through the gardens. Sometimes people stop in cars or RVs and walk through, asking questions, chatting about what we are growing. They are from Illinois or Iowa, and are curious.
There will be a picnic for the garden, and I donated a book for a raffle - and a lovely lady came by to the house to pick it up. She has now come over to the plot to chat every time we are there. And we talked about all of the great recipes in the local cookbook and the chefs that created them (she knows most of them). Every time we go to the garden (2-3 times per week) there are many people there. It is never empty. And it is always friendly. There are hellos and compliments and chat about the weather. There are those who know each other well now who heckle each other loudly in good humor over who has the most weeds, or who has the biggest tomatoes. We may not have met the people way over on the other far corner yet. But I assure you they have waved and yelled hi on their way down their path.
This new town we live in is pretty much a suburb of Madison. But it is tucked off on its own a bit and so it has a small town feel. 10,000 people live here. And people are friendly. We have had a community garden before. But it just wasn't a community. I have realized over the past few months that is what this new garden plot is. It is a community. It is our community that we will now be a part of for years to come. Our new house has 3 times the yard size, and we will have room for many integrated plantings, fruiting bushes, canes and trees. But I am now certain that we will keep this community garden plot. Because it is a community garden. And this is our community.
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I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, certified permaculture designer (PDC), organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two young adults in south central Wisconsin.