Saturday, September 10, 2011

Community Garden, Benicia, California

    A community garden sprang up in the middle of downtown Benicia. Still in it's first year it has attracted enough gardeners to cover half the empty gravel lot with individual plots and it's growing, in every way. A picnic table under a canopy provides a place to share the mysteries of achieving perfect tomatoes or pawn off too many zucchini. Although by the end of fall the growers might be throwing them at passing cars when they run out of recipes to disguise them. 

                                                 click to enlarge
    I don't have a before picture because it was just an ugly, fallow corner so it never occurred to me to take a picture. People rushing by stop in their tracks to gawk at the freakishly large pumpkin and marvel at the beds of vegetable bounty and gorgeous flowers. A community of gardeners transformed more than dirt and weeds into healthy produce, their efforts changed the character of the neighborhood as well. If nothing more, it makes people smile, like finding something precious you thought was lost. A few people got it going. Others jumped in, seeds and shovels in hand. I was skeptical at first because I'm about as interested in gardening as eating dirt so it was hard to believe enough people showed up to make installing the plumbing worthwhile, but I recently heard there is a waiting list for new plots and a work party organized to build them. 

    My sister lives next door to the the garden project. Her vegetable plants have trunks instead of stems, producing enough tomatoes to start a ketchup factory. She uses a variety of techniques, some rooted in science others closer to believing in fairies, but whatever she does works. Picking large pungent, viney smelling tomatoes, still warm from the sun is the best part of summer.

     When I lived on and island in the South Pacific I used to shove pineapple tops in the dirt outside my door. Not technically gardening as it simply involved bending over and leaving it, but after a few years I noticed a tiny pineapple sprouting out of one that had taken root. When I excitedly told my neighbor that I grew a pineapple she looked at me with wonder and disgust. Rolling her eyes she said, "That's the most egotistical thing I've ever heard, you don't grow it, they grow themselves." In the jungle that's true, plants voraciously take hold and grow untended, but turning barren ground into a bountiful garden and lively meeting place took the quiet effort of many people who were willing to baby and nurture plants and possibly even each other.
Well done gardeners of Benicia, it's beautiful.    


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