My hat’s off to urbanites who travel to maintain a plot in a community garden. If I can neglect chickweed billowing up to my doorstep, how valiantly would I curb it from afar? That takes determination, and I’ve seen community plots sown with great enthusiasm in May but reclaimed by nature in August.
Still, I love community gardens as much for their mingling of diverse folk as for the gardens themselves, and it was uplifting to pay a recent visit to the Glover Park Community Garden in Northwest Washington. Here was everything I’d always hoped such a garden could be, with tidy plots full of healthy, fruitful plants and few weeds. How did this happen?
The 2.7-acre garden started as a Victory Garden during the food shortages of World War II, and it still puts food first. (Only 10 percent of the plants may be flowers.) Owned by the National Park Service and run by the Glover Park Community Garden Association, it shares at least one thing in common with most other such gardens — rules. Only organic methods can be used. Tidy wood-edged, bark-filled paths separating the 150 plots are communally maintained, and nothing in your plot may impinge on those of others — no errant plants, shade cast by structures, pests or weeds. If you fall behind in weeding, you receive a warning, and if you continue to let things go, you’re out. A vacant community garden plot doesn’t stand empty for long. In an age when all forms of urban farming have become chic, more than 90 people are in line for a plot here, with a wait of three to four years.
This regime seems draconian in contrast to the happy anarchy of one’s own yard, but its subjects thrive. Some have established pockets of retreat with vines wandering over homemade bowers. You find outdoor umbrellas for shade and weatherproof chairs where gardeners rest from their labors or spend time chatting with one another.
One of the best things about gardeners is their habit of swapping and sharing, whether it’s seeds, transplants, extra materials or — especially — knowledge. Even though every plot is different, there’s a certain style that characterizes this particular garden tribe. The path system seems to have spawned a passion for wood-edged beds, many of them terraced to accommodate the garden’s sloping terrain. The need to exclude wildlife has taught members fencemanship. (A tiny spotted fawn breached one plot’s fence, then fled back into the nearby woods as a friend and I rushed to free it.)
As they say, good fences make good trellises — for peas, cucumbers, beans and other climbers on wire mesh panels. All the tricks for making the most of a small space (these averaged 25 by 25 feet) were on display: herbs in pots, staked tomatoes sharing beds with kale, beans growing on crisscrossed poles, beds edged with scallions, plants tucked into any available nook. You could learn a lot just by wandering through.
It was also clear to me that much of the garden’s good fellowship came from its presiding spirit, Dino Kraniotis, an avid gardener doling out advice and enthusiasm from a particularly handsome and productive plot. He told me a story that I found a perfect example of community gardenomics: A member who worked in a Chinese restaurant had brought Dino the white, rooted bottoms of scallions discarded by cooks after using the green tops. Dino planted them and raised a whole crop. Now that’s a great trick. I’m going to try that.
Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”
Tip of the week:
Fading roses can be pruned to look tidy and promote the next flush of growth. Use hand pruners and thorn-proof gloves to take off spent blooms to just above a lower leaf cluster. To minimize black-spot disease, water roses in the morning, preferably without getting the leaves wet. Keep overhead sprinklers away from roses. — Adrian Higgins