Archive for the 'Other People’s Gardens' Category

Guest post: A garden out of control

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Chase Ledebur, my cousin Kären’s son. Chase has been gardening this summer for the first time at home, and I wanted you to hear from this wonderful and talented 12-year-old in his very own words.

Hi, I’m Chase – welcome to my garden. This is the first vegetable garden I’ve had at home. At school I was a part of planting a community garden, but it is a flower garden.

My Mom and I built the raised bed together and then planted 4 varieties of tomatoes, summer squash, three kinds of peppers, zucchini, Japanese eggplant, basil and oregano.

I have really enjoyed watching the plants grow and bear fruit. At first it started out small, but it’s now out of control. It’s so out of control that we had to cut back all our plants, stake some of them, and we are constantly harvesting all of our vegetables.

I love the whole process. Next year I think we’ll plant less, or maybe we’ll add another bed.

Photography shouldn’t distract from weeding

On my way out to Oakland from Iowa, I made a stop in Grand Junction, Colorado, at my cousin’s house. She and her son Chase had planted their first vegetable garden in a beautiful raised bed off one side of the house. Tomatoes, squash, basil, oregano – the garden was still filled with seedlings when I got there, but had the promise of an amazing summer of production.

Chase gave me a tour of the garden before I headed out toward Salt Lake City, where I had a dinner planned with Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen, and I started shooting pictures almost as soon as I got out there. Chase put up with my paparazzi-esque behavior while he weeded the garden, but only did so for so long.

“Genie,” he said, looking up at me with a pointed look. “You really could stop taking those pictures and start helping me with the weeding.”

Well, I did help. A bit. And just recently, I asked my cousin if Chase might be interested in giving my readers an update on how the garden is doing, now that the summer season is in high gear and veggies are popping out all over. As it turned out, he was interested, so stay tuned – on Wednesday, I’ll be turning the floor over to Chase, who is more than just an excellent gardener – he’s a fantastic kid!

The tomato bed

Tomatoes in the Victory Garden

Tomatoes in the Victory Garden

Bed 10A. That’s the location, on the official Victory Garden Map, of the tomato plants. During my first morning as a volunteer, I kept wandering over there, checking out the tiny yellow blossoms, eyeing the green tomatoes weighing down the branches, and admiring the basil and Italian parsley companion-planted throughout the bed.

Then I noticed suckers growing from the stem junctures on some of the tomato plants, and reached down to pick one. Even in the chilly mist, there was no mistaking the smell that wafted up. That green, tomato-plant smell that I love so much? Turns out it’s just as good even when the garden isn’t really yours and you aren’t even going to get to eat any of the tomatoes.

I’m already looking forward to Saturday, when I might just stand by Bed 10A for as much of the day as the Garden Educator on duty will let me. I don’t think I’m quite ready to talk to the plants, but I’m definitely going to be looking for suckers to pluck.

Heck. If no one’s looking, I might just have to hug one of the plants. Trust me. In that neighborhood? That kind of behavior wouldn’t even come close to making me stand out in the crowd.

First day at the Victory Garden

I very nearly left the house without a jacket on Sunday morning.

Two hours into my first stint as a docent in the Victory Garden, I was simultaneously applauding my decision to actually grab my favorite grey hoodie and kicking myself for not grabbing my fleece jacket to go over it.

“I’m freezing,” I muttered to Lauren, who was volunteering with me that day. “I cannot believe I almost didn’t bring my hoodie.”

Lauren shook her head and zipped her fleece (while I stifled inadvertent envy) up a little further. We both eyed the cloud-thick sky. I wrinkled my nose at the mist. It felt like early spring in Iowa, not even close to what I consider summer.

Regardless of weather-related challenges (Note: bring many more layers this weekend…), this was a fairly low-key volunteer effort. I spent much of my time wandering around the garden taking pictures, and having conversations with the English-speaking visitors. As much as I like opera, I was of no help with the busload of Italian tourists who came through about 45 minutes into the morning, and even though I live in Oakland’s Chinatown, I wasn’t any help with the Chinese tourists, either.

At one point, the Garden Educator on site to keep us on task asked me to help her water some plants. I said I would, but then a woman walking by stopped at the fence around the garden to ask if there was a need for more volunteers, and so I wrote down the volunteer coordinator’s email address for her and talked to her for a few minutes about the garden, and by the time I turned back around, another volunteer had picked up the watering can and had taken over that job.

Dirty hands? Not really. But I can’t complain about spending a few hours wandering aimlessly through a pretty spectacular garden.

Victory! Or, I found a garden (for the time being)

When I looked for apartments near my work in Oakland, I wasn’t sure what I’d find. I knew I had some very simple, non-negotiable criteria: I wanted to be able to walk to and from work. I wanted a decent kitchen. I wanted something safe, and I wanted to try to avoid paying my entire annual salary in rent.

Slow Food Nation's Victory Garden sits in the shadow of City Hall.

Slow Food Nation's Victory Garden sits in the shadow of City Hall.

It might come as a surprise, based on the name of this blog, that having some space to garden or plant was not on that non-negotiable list. But I had this feeling that, somehow, I’d figure out a way to get my hands in the dirt, even if that way was unconventional.

Sure enough, a way presented itself. Slow Food Nation is bringing its foodie parade to town over Labor Day Weekend, and one aspect of the conference/festival /concert/celebrity-chef-sighting-opportunity is the Victory Garden planted in front of San Francisco’s City Hall.

Patterned after the Victory Gardens that fed the nation during World War II, the main garden at Civic Center is slated to provide fresh vegetables a few weeks after the Slow Food Nation gathering to those with limited access to produce in San Francisco.

The garden’s been attracting a little bit of nay-saying, particularly over at Garden Rant and the San Francisco Bay Guardian Politics blog. It’s temporary, they say. It’s expensive and a waste of resources. It’s a photo op. It’s a pale imitation of a real urban gardening program.

Victory gardener at work

Victory gardener at work

I went down to see the garden on my birthday, the day after it was planted, and I’ll admit, the temporary nature of the garden surprised me. I expected something much more permanent. But I have also noticed that I have yet to mention the project to anyone who hasn’t heard about it and who doesn’t think community gardening is a good idea.

Now, to be fair, a lot of people I talk to in my ordinary life are foodies, gardeners, or public health folks who are predisposed to applaud veggies growing just down the steps of City Hall. But this story is being told, and there are people making sure the story doesn’t end on Labor Day. Besides, Alice Waters is behind this, and I defy anyone to say she’s not vehemently committed to the principle of equal access to fresh, local produce for all. This might be a photo op, but awareness has to start being raised somehow.

Regardless, I’ll be able to get a firsthand glimpse of how the garden is growing and how people are responding to it. Starting Sunday morning, I take my first turn as a garden docent, a volunteer position that might include giving garden tours, answering questions about vegetables (Apparently the volunteer coordinator doesn’t read this blog…), and helping with garden maintenance.

I may not have my own garden right now, but I’m about to start experiencing the photo op up close, and I can’t wait to get in there and see what it’s all about.


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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