Friday, July 15, 2016

Conservatory’s Women’s Board Returns to the SACG for Brief Visit

Almost six years to the day, the Franklin Park Conservatory’s Women’s Board returned to visit the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden as part of its annual tour of local community gardens on Wednesday.   It was an even larger group than in 2010 and included Conservatory staff and even Conservatory Executive Director Bruce Harkey.  (I’m glad that I did not wear my typical baggy and dirty gardening garb).  As always, they were very nice and seemed very aware of how much work goes into operating a successful community garden.  While in 2010 I focused on how we repurposed discarded items and the amount of corporate and community support that we had received, this time I emphasized how much work was involved and all of the changes (particularly in the last year) which had been made since their last visit.  I even tried to recruit them to replace me as Garden Manager.  Finally, I emphasized the diversity of our gardeners and how they are peers in the Garden, thereby reducing societal barriers which the media seems determined to emphasize. Needless to say, it was very hot and humid – even in the morning.

I started off the morning by planting marigolds which I picked up on Tuesday from another Straders’ donation to GCGC at the Four Season City Farms.  Margaret Ann Samuelson had picked a lot of summer squash on Monday and offered me some.  I offered instead to drop it off at the Salvation Army food pantry on my way back to Bexley (which is what I did).   They also had some OSU students holding cooking and tasting classes next to their garden.  Tueday’s menu was Indian curry.   I also tried to treat the powdery mildew (with a solution of water and baking soda) that had shown up on Sunday on our lovely bee balm flowers.

Our Conservatory visitors started on our front lawn.  I talked briefly about our history of breaking ground in 2009 and how we worked with our neighbors, such as Urban Connections, to get the eyesore building next to us torn down on the same day as the Derecho in 2012.  I also reported that we had thought to start an orchard on the newly vacant lot until a competition ensued between whether our neighbor or Urban Connections would build on that lot.  There was no point in investing time and money in an orchard which will soon be uprooted.  I also pointed out all of the fruit trees – Bing Cherries, Montmorency Cherries, Meteor Cherries, Contender Peaches and Red Haven Peaches which we had planted since their last visit.  I pointed out that the Cherry Tree which we planted in April 2012 was twice the size as the tree which the contractor had planted a few months later after he ran over and killed its twin when preparing to demolish the next door building in June 2012.  

I also reported that we had been anticipating a bumper peach crop this year.  I was glad that I took plenty of pictures two weeks ago because someone came through over the Independence Day weekend and pulled all of the fruit off of the trees and threw them around the neighborhood.  Sigh.  Maybe when the trees get taller . . . .  I also pointed out that the neighborhood block watch tends the lot across the street from us and next to us (although we have been slowly and surely since 2010 been adversely possessing more and more of that lot).   They have to carry their own water to keep the flowers alive because the City still hasn’t implemented its free tank fill-up program yet this year. I pointed out the flower pot at the corner of Stoddart and Cherry, which marks the place where someone was murdered in 2011.  We had three nearby murders in 2010 and 11 and another a half block away a few years ago.   Finally, I pointed out that while my siblings and I hated gardening when growing up, I incorporated my favorite aspects of wild food into the SACG, such as our strawberry patch and raspberry bushes.
I then took our visitors over to the Cherry Street alley and told them about our capital improvement projects in the last year:

·        How we carried all of the debris which we dug out of the Garden to the alley over the years form a make-shift curb and then carted it off (with the help of some neighbors) to a legal dump.  Then we replaced replace that debris with beautiful landscaping stones donated by Conservatory Board member Bill Gearhart to form a uniform curb with the help of OSU and Capital students.

·        How we doubled the size of our strawberry patch as our major Earth Day project this Spring.

·        The new sign for our neighbor plots where anyone passing by can help themselves to fresh produce.

·        Stan’s ongoing improvement project for our compost bins.  His efforts to improve our cement block compost bin has been on hold as we have waited for the City’s Lowe’s voucher program to be implemented so that we could purchase more blocks (and landscaping stones to fill the gaps in the expanded strawberry patch).  However, we apparently will not qualify for a Lowe’s voucher this year because the City is insisting that we figure out (which we cannot do) how much produce we collectively grow in all of our individual plots and elsewhere -- like the raspberry bushes and strawberry patch --  (so that we can report a percentage – or fraction – of what we donate and give away).    While I weigh and record what we donate to area pantries and shelters, the individual gardeners are not required to report that to me, ever.  No one would ever sign up for a plot at a Land Bank community garden in an urban neighborhood if they had to weigh and/or record every piece of produce they grow before they take it home.  It’s all I can do to get them to perform their chores and weed their own plots, etc.    I also cannot and do not even try to keep track of how many berries the neighborhood children eat, etc.  Some gardeners grow a lot and some don’t.  Some grow three seasons and some grow one. Some let a lot of food rot in their plot and some do not.  Some grow heavy food and some grow light food.  I was encouraged to make up a number.  Are we really that far from the Public School’s  Data Scrubbing Scandal that people think it’s now ok to make up statistics?  I refuse to cooperate in such a fraud and plan to fight retaliation against us for refusing go along with this.  In any event, Highland Youth Garden has offered to donate all of the cement blocks which we need.   The latest problem is that I need a truck to help me transport them.  (It’s not worth renting a truck because that cost would exceed the cost of the blocks).  Luckily, a neighborhood landlord has agreed to help me on Tuesday. 

·        I also pointed out that our Stoddart Avenue neighborhood landlords have been some of our biggest supporters and fans.   For instance, the newest landlord brought us cases of soda on Earth Day after watching us work so hard.

·        I was asked about where we get our soil.  I explained that we were big fans of Com-til (which is not always popular among the politically correct sect).  The City used to donate 10 cubic yards each year to community gardens, but then stopped.  Of course, I began whining and nagging.  Bill Dawson began nodding his head (because he knows).  This year, the City said we could have as much as we needed, so I ordered 30 cubic yards to split with our neighbors at Kimball Farms (the next stop on the tour).   Last year, the Conservatory gave us some compost, too.
I then hiked our visitors over to the south side of the Garden:

·        I showed them our new flower bed.  The spot had been where Mike Donley had dumped our wood chips in 2015 for our Opening Day (for our paths and fence lines).  Then, the City
donated a truck load of premium top soil from Kurtz Brothers, which Amy and I had unloaded on top of that spot.  The OSU Young Scholars then transported that soil to our planting beds, but the grass never filled in.  So, when the Conservatory held its Big Dig in May, we picked up a bunch of tulip plants and replanted them in this spot.   Amy even edged it into a circular flower bed.  I thought that I would let them naturalize, but this year’s mini-drought again did not permit grass to take over.  In June, Kossuth Community Garden donated a bunch of canna lily corns to other area community gardens and I planted six or so of them on the outer border of where the tulips where.  Then, when Straders Garden Centers donated thousands of flats of flowers to GCGC this year, I picked up a dozen flats and we transplanted a bunch of salvias, petunias and begonias into this spot for form a formal flower bed (something I never otherwise do). 

·        I pointed out that we moved our blueberry bushes from the north side of the Garden to the south side to get more sun and avoid the growing raspberry bushes.  (I did not mention the damage they suffered when I fell over backwards into one last year and little Zion did the same this year).

·        I pointed out our shed had been robbed several times last year and we lost all of our seeds
and most of our tools (which the Conservatory helped to replace).  Another area landlord, Ken Turner, gave us an impressive monster lock to safeguard our assets.

·        I pointed out our raspberry bushes, which started with nine seedlings that Rayna brought back from her parent’s farm near Toledo in 2009.  They love the wood chips and have expanded greatly.  We’ve given seedlings to a number of other community gardens.  They operate as an edible barrier.  The berries are highly popular with gardeners, neighborhood kids and even adults.
·        We talked about bindweed taking over the Garden and our bushes.  (I probably won't be pulling any more for a while . . . . ).

·        I took them back to our rolling compost bin and how we cannot really make use of it this year without water.  Since I loaned away the rain barrel collecting rain from our shed, it’s too hard to water the compost bin and the raised beds over here.

·        I showed them our new picnic table, which the neighborhood kids stained last year.  I’m still working on enlarging a hole to put a patio umbrella.  Sanding and re-staining it will be an upcoming group project.

·        I begged someone to take over for me as Garden Manager so that I could just be a gardener for a while (or forever, whatever).  I got no takers.  Boo hoo.

·        We discussed the various volunteer groups which come to help us sometimes.  They asked where we get volunteers.  I pointed out that OSU sends us a few groups each year and we’re establishing a relationship with Capital as well.  Urban Connections generally supplies us with extra volunteers, too, when the opportunity arises.  Bexley UMC's Youth Fellowship will be visiting us in a couple of weeks (at the suggestion of one of our landlord fairy godfathers).  

Then, I walked them through the Garden.  Everything is big and green.  (I don't post pictures here anymore to reduce the temptation to steal).

·        I pointed out our new trellis which was donated by a Bexley philanthropist and installed last week by Americorps YouthBuild program.   I asked them for suggestions where we could install our sign, which had been created by well-known local artist John Sunami (who is also responsible for the Driving Park streetcar art installation at Livingston and Nelson and the planters at the Statehouse, etc.) and used to garden with us and his wife, Mari.

·        I took them to the youth gardening area.  Micayla came to show off her plot (if such a shy girl can show off anything).  She had already pulled out a bunch of her carrots on Monday evening, so it was difficult finding a ripe one to pull out for our visitors).   None of the other children are as conscientious in tending their beds as Micayla (who also helped me to plant potatoes in the food pantry plot).   The kids also have a plot for melons and, unlike last year, we did not plant any pumpkins which could take over.

·        The platform raised beds had been created with two of our senior citizen gardeners in mind (who were not bending over much to weed).  I explained that they were insulted by them, which surprised our visitors as much as it had me. We had one new older garden join so that she could use them, but the topography of the Garden had been an impediment.   It was too hard for them to get to and from our rain cisterns to water their beds.  So, the raised beds only solved bending impairments, but not their stamina or balance issues.    However, I explained that the kids loved them, so I re-purposed them for our youth program. 

·        I pointed out Marcel’s plot because she just had a new baby two weeks ago.  Other gardeners had been watering it, but not weeding it. 

·        I pointed out the two benches which Bill brought us back in 2009.  It’s an ongoing project for our visiting volunteer groups to sand and stain the benches.

·        We talked about our pest situation.  We are not strictly organic, although that is our general preference.  I have diatomaceous earth, neem oil and insecticidal soap in the trunk of my car (i.e., my travelling garden shed).  Grasshoppers are our biggest pest.  Typically, we have lots of feral and other cats to hunt them, but I haven’t seen a single cat this growing season.    We also are at war with squash bugs (which Marge at St. Vincent de Paul’s pantry garden tells me that they NEVER have).   Of course, we also have aphids, which is Marge’s pest du jour this week.   I didn’t mention our groundhogs and possums.

To conclude, I walked them over to Kimball Farms where our rain cisterns are located.  I talked about how often the gutters have gotten clogged this year and how we have run out of water twice already.  The Fire Department filled us up once at the beginning of June and we paid a third of our limited savings to fill it up a second time at the end of June.   We talked about our food pantry donations and how I am not civil to people who interrupt me while I’m rushing to harvest before everything wilts.  

There was a discussion about how community gardens reduce crime (which has been our experience), but the undervalued part is the great diversity of our gardeners and how people who would never interact with each other become peers in the Garden by virtue of their shared interests and levels of experience.  Mother Nature is a great equalizer when you are trying to grow the perfect tomato.   We attract gardeners from many neighborhoods and suburbs who would never become acquainted and comfortable with our neighbors in any other situation.   Our visitors then gave us a nice gift certificate to Oakland Nursery (where we purchased our initial six fruit trees (which they delivered for free) and used to give us free seedlings for our food pantry plots.  In fact, Mark from Oakland  Nursery also donated our blueberry bushes and the strawberry plants for our initial patch).  Cathy and I talked about purchasing a plum tree with it, but then I remembered that we need to purchase grape plants to grow up our new trellis. 

Kimball Farms was the second stop on the garden tour.  Melinda worked in extreme heat and humidity on Monday and Tuesday to get them ready.  Pastor Brown entertained the group (from the applause that I frequently overheard from across the street).    I was concerned about running past my 9:45 a.m. time, but Bill told me that I had more time.  I wasn’t thinking that Kimball wasn’t planning on starting until 10 a.m. 

I ran over to Urban Connections to get some cold water (because I was hot and thirsty).  Urban Connections was holding its annual summer camp for the neighborhood children, who were having lots of fun.  After I left, they held their photography classes.  (Urban Connections borrowed lots of cameras to provide the kids to teach them about photography).  They came over to the SACG to take artsy pictures of our flowers (some of which I've attached here). 

 I ran over to the Tool Library to return some shears before heading home.  I ran into lady who was picking up tools for a new community garden on Franklin Avenue.  I encouraged her to join GCGC to get some flowers, etc.  She told me that she knew about the SACG, but I didn’t believe her until she dropped Mari Sunami’s name.  Small world.

At lunch time, I headed over to Bethany Bronzeville Community Garden at the Bethany Presbyterian Church on North Garfield (behind the Kings Art Complex), where there was yet another Straders’ donation being unloaded for GCGC members.    (I picked up some flowering baskets on Thursday from yet another Straders' donation to GCGC and dropped them off on the front porches of the SACG's nearest neighbors and for Stan (a block away) who has worked so hard the last few weeks).

Then, I tried to get some “real” work done for my day job.  And prayed for rain.    Our visitors commented that I had a lot of energy.  That's not how it feels . . ..

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