Community gardens are at least as much about community as they are about gardening.
From 120 miles away, I followed in the pages of the Los Angeles Times the final days of what was then the country’s largest community garden. In a controversial land deal, the city had sold the site just south of downtown Los Angeles where almost 350 families had been growing crops for their kitchens or for sale, and the community gardeners faced having their spaces bulldozed. The story of the gardeners trying to save their spaces in the face of a city government bent on finding more profitable uses made for compelling newspaper copy, and it’s now the subject of The Garden, the Academy Award nominated documentary that is making its way around the country in general release.
Check out its most current screening dates on Facebook. The film came to town two weeks ago, but it was gone within a week, like much of the produce grown in the garden it profiled.
Yard-sharing offers a smaller-scale alternative to the larger community gardens and some of the politics that go with it. Hyperlocavore is a social network that helps to match up people who want to garden with homeowners or renters who want to produce food on their land but lack the time or expertise to do it.
It’s a fairly new space online, and not all communities have people who want to participate. Here in San Diego, for instance, there’s currently only one person on the site. But with growing press, there should be more collaborators signed up. It’s a great concept, building community, one garden at a time.
You can also check some of the other garden-based social networks on Ning: Here. There might be just the perfect space for you and your interests. And if not, you can create one.
Saturday I had the opportunity to take a short hike with some of the local native plant society folks through Manzanita Canyon, one of the small neighborhood canyons in San Diego that break up the urban development on the mesa tops. One of the communities that surrounds it, Azalea Park, has been cleaning up the canyon and the neighborhood. One of their projects is been to transform a vacant canyon lot into a pocket park devoted to native plants.
The sign announcing Parque Linda is almost as big as the little park itself, and is flanked by a sturdy plant of bladderpod (Isomeris arborea, aka Cleome arborea) a plant that’s floating to the top of my list of favorite natives.Visually, it’s a pleasant, low shrub, with yellow flowers several months of the year. The growth habit is open enough that you can see some of the interesting branch structure, so the plant isn’t just a yellow gumdrop.
Judging from the number of insects visiting it, the plant also appears to be a big favorite of the local animal community.
The garden was organized by adults, but many of the local children participated in its creation. I was particularly struck by the little clay signs that were used to identify many of the plants. The adults identified the plants they wanted to label, but the kids made the signs.
The park gathers together a number of plants that can survive on whatever rainfall comes their way. But being a garden and not a revegetation project, Parque Linda will require the ongoing support of the community to maintain it. The fact that the little garden exists at all–not to mention that people will be committing its upkeep–speaks to the fact that this is a neighborhood that cares about its well being, a place where people’s interests don’t stop at their property lines.
The Great American Garden shares undertones with the Great American anything: competition, excess and individualism. Just look at all the battles for the greenest lawn that the Scott’s fertilizer people perpetuate in their ads that are about to start saturating the airwaves.
But community gardens allow something else to happen. They’re shared spaces and meeting places where people of differing backgrounds and cultures interact.
Foglia’s photos look at the varied people who work plots of land in a community garden in Providence, Rhode Island, and they celebrate the intersections that develop there. It’s a nice body of work and definitely worth a look.