I don’t know how I haven’t written a blog about our community garden. It is easily my favorite space at my home here in Hollywood. I guess I would rather be in my garden than writing about it. However, it is currently cold outside (aka 65 degrees and slightly windy), so I will take some time to reflect inside about what the dirt patch in front of our community house means to me.
My family in Phoenix has a garden in our backyard, and it is one of my favorite places to be in Arizona. There is always some delicious surprise waiting for me in there. Growing up, I loved to sit and eat as many sweet peas as possible when I got home from school or try and find a strawberry or two that the birds had not discovered and consumed before I woke up that day. My dad spends hours in the garden planting it, tilling it, and taking special care to be sure every chemical balance of the soil is perfect, the nets to keep the birds away are intact, and all the plants have enough shade or warmth. I remember having to walk through the damp cold grass to cover all the plants in the garden with sheets in winter, so they would not freeze. It was not a hard task, but I really did not like taking those twenty minutes to ensure we had a crop in the morning because it took me out of my warm house and away from whatever I was doing (Selfish teenagers, am I right?)
When I arrived in LA, I volunteered right away to be in charge of the garden here because I had experience, and no one else in my house liked gardening (this fact has now changed). We started off with an eggplant, some tomato and pepper plants, and a few trees, the main one being a weird lime/lemon hybrid that to this day I cannot figure out why it produces both fruits alternating months. Over the course of the year, and in addition to the beginning plants, we have grown carrots, potatoes, radishes, lettuce, broccoli, sweet peas, strawberries, zucchini, scallions, yellow squash, rosemary, and various types of flowers. Most of these plants we planted as seeds, and it has been one of my greatest joys to watch the tiny, baby plants poke through the earth and mature into large producing plants that provide for our community and our house.
Each day, I check the garden before I go to work and after I return home in the evening. We water the garden every Tuesday and Thursday during community hours, so our kids can help us and learn about growing food and composting (Some kids are very interested in plants and gardening, but let’s be real, they mostly like playing in the hose water as I try to get them to water each plants gently.). We also have garden day every second Sunday of the month, where we weed, harvest, turn the compost pile, and generally clean the area. Several cats live in the garden, and people from the neighborhood put water and food in there for them to make sure they do not starve. Our neighbors Becky and Michael, and Michael and Annabelle also have separate boxes where they grow their own plants.
I think one reason I like the garden so much is because of the sense of harmony and community that naturally permeates it. Since it is a community garden, our neighbors are free to come in any time they want and take produce or contribute to the compost pile (They can also plant things, but we ask that they tell us first). I often see people picking tomatoes to use in their dinner that night or wandering along the brick paths with their children who want to look at the brightly colored flowers we have growing in a few spots. I have met most of my neighbors because they were walking by while I was in the garden, and we started talking. I have also learned some wonderful new recipes by talking with people about what they are planning on making with the vegetables they pick. The foundation for my relationship with one of my housemates, Jordan, is our meaningful conversations and silent time just being with each other we share while sitting and weeding the garden. One of our regular community hours kids has taken it upon herself to care for one strawberry plant in particular that she calls her own, and it is beautiful how much pride she has in caring for this plant.
The garden is a gathering space where all are equal, and all have a place. I do not think it is any wonder why God decided to start humans in a garden. Gardens require hard work, patience, and love. In addition, it is difficult not to be amazed by the miracles that are plants. They start as nothing and bloom into huge organisms that provide balance and joy to life. They take what they need and give back infinitely more than was given to them (insert Christian metaphor for how we should live our lives in a similar manner).
I think I also love the garden because it is a simple place where I can be alone with my thoughts and God. It is my quiet happy space. Plants do not get frustrated with me or call me a bitch because I brought them the wrong fish head fertilizer or because I did not allow them to have more water. Plants do not question my motives for spraying them with a natural compound that will cure their disease. Plants do not make me feel guilty because I am white, privileged, American, straight, female, and housed. I never question whether I am living in solidarity with the plants or just being charitable to them by spreading compost around their base. There is no doubt in my mind whether my desire to shade the lettuce from the sun is deriving from some white savior complex I have or not. Gardening is simple. I try my best, and the plants do their best. There is no need for trauma informed services or deep thoughts about how to preserve the dignity of the plants or how to best support their local leadership. And in my world, where every single other area of my life from work to church to my place in the neighborhood/LA/America/the world is clouded with these constant questions and considerations, it is a breath of fresh air to have some place that is easy where I can simply be with God, the radishes, and the cats.
I hope the future Dwellers continue the garden. Because California has basically no water left (seriously guys, it’s bad), there has been some talk of letting the garden die next year. I sincerely hope this does not happen because the garden has been one of the best ways we as a YAV/DOOR house have reached out into our community and contributed to our neighborhood in a meaningful way. Also, I want to acknowledge before this blog entry ends that my housemates and neighbors/past Dwellers have been amazingly helpful this year regarding the garden. They show up and do their best weeding and watering every time I ask them to help. They care for the garden as much as I do even though it is not everyone’s favorite activity.
In conclusion, the garden will be one of the things I miss most when I leave for DC in August. It is a place to be patient and kind without hesitation. It is a place to be adventurous and try new things through experimentation. It is a place to be surprised by what turns up, whether that is a mint plant you never planted or a bag of lettuce sitting in the path that disappears the next day without you touching it or Keurig coffee pods in the compost that make you giggle because it is a clear example of good intentions, bad execution by one of your neighbors. Our garden is not an exact science. It does not take a ton of time or money. It is uncomplicated. It is colorful. It is a splendid example of how to live life in relationship with God. Like the plants, we try our best to grow, be fruitful, and make the world better, and God asks little else.
I will end my blog here before it gets too cluttered with garden metaphors for life, faith, and Jesus because I am not the first to draw these comparisons nor will I be the last. The Bible is filled with garden/plant analogies because they work perfectly, and people much brighter than I and more eloquent have already exhausted this line of writing. Therefore, let me end with these two thoughts: our garden is the best, and I will find another when I move to DC because I want to continue to get my hands and feet dirty and to learn from the people and plants in gardens about how to be a better Christian.
(PS-Science has proved that gardening makes you happier, so go get your hands dirty too!)