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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


A Daily Gazette community blog
Ideas on greener living

Dreaming up gardens

From spring through fall, my family is thinking garden. I’ve been planting a few more seeds every morning in whatever used containers I’ve saved — plastic clamshells from strawberries, foam containers from mushrooms. All the paper coffee cups mined from my husband’s car floor are cleaned and ready for when it’s time to transplant tomatoes and peppers into individual pots.

In the morning I look at a window full of 1-inch sprouts, but what I see is full grown plants out in the garden, heavy with ripening vegetables.
I see gardens wherever I go, and where there aren’t gardens, I imagine them.

When we pick up the neighbor kid for school in the morning, I look at his sloping, south-facing lawn and see terraced gardens. The grass is spotty there anyway, and interspersed with moss, so I imagine sweetening the soil with wood ash and dumping piles of well-composted manure, maybe building up terraces with stone edges. I see it overflowing with vines of eggplants and squashes, poles of beans and tomatoes, edged in the back by towering sunflowers.

Then my daughter brings me back to earth.

“I don’t think they want a garden,” she says.
The neighbor kid gets in the car, and we drive to the next town south to pick up the other high-schooler going to community college this year. He lives in a little brick house, with a very shady backyard.

But the side of his house soaks in the sun and would be perfect for containers. I imagine big barrels or, better yet, a long brick planter along the edge of the house. It would warm up quickly there on the driveway, and not take up too much room. They could grow peppers and cucumbers, tomatoes, even strawberries. Lots of food for the family.

I do not mention this to my daughter. She already thinks I’m nuts.

So does my urban friend who moved from Montreal to suburban Minnesota. When I went to visit her some years ago, I started strolling her landscaped backyard and talking about how easy it would be to grow just a few tomato plants, or just enough pumpkins for Halloween.

She stopped me quickly. “I don’t want a garden. I will never want a garden. I’m very happy buying vegetables at the farmers’ market.”

I guess not everyone has to have a garden. But for me, it’s hard to look at any domicile — urban, suburban or rural — and not think about where I would grow what if I lived there. If I lived in my friend John’s New York City apartment, I’d put in window boxes. If I lived in my aunt’s apartment, I’d turn her little balcony into a vertical garden. In my Minnesota friend’s yard — well, never mind. That one’s a lost cause.

My dad recently moved into an apartment complex for seniors, and there’s a community garden there. My sister and I are already plotting out a little garden for him, although he is somewhat less enthusiastic about it than we are. “Make sure you start extra vegetable seeds for Dad,” my sister told me. “And also, I’ll take three tomato plants, a cherry tomato, some peppers and a cucumber when it’s time for planting.”

My sister has flower gardens mostly, but always throws a few vegetables in the mix, both in the ground and in pots on the porch. Her ground is sandy and dry, and she’s already thinking she might have more luck in our dad’s community garden plot than at home.

There are plenty of people who can’t have gardens, and some — and even I understand this, really — who could have gardens but don’t want to. There are those who are perfectly happy with store-bought produce, fresh, canned or frozen, or who are able to afford farmers’ market prices for fresh, local food.

But I can’t help feeling lucky to get my own fresh, local food from right outside my door. As the recession drags on and on and the price of food — and of fuel and health care and everything else — continues to rise, it’s a great relief to bring in all that food for the price of a packet of seeds.

And that makes me worry about people who can’t afford fresh food, or who lack access to it. There are plenty of urban islands in our region where people don’t live near a well-stocked grocery store and have no transportation to one, or no spare cash for splurging on fresh fruits and vegetables.

If you are lucky enough to have a garden of your own, you might start thinking now about planting an extra row to share. You can share informally, bringing a bag of produce to a family you know in your town that can use it, one suffering from a job loss or high medical costs because of a sick relative. Or you can donate your surplus to an area food pantry or soup kitchen.

Call ahead. Soup kitchens often cook or serve at particular times or days, and might prefer drop-offs at particular times. And not all food pantries have refrigeration, so not all of them can accept perishables. But as food pantries have had to expand, more have added refrigerators. And a lot of people who rely on food pantries could use the nutritive boost that fresh food offers. And they just might not be in a position to grow it themselves.

We’re lucky to be able to, and we know it. And every gardener knows there will always be a surplus of something. So it only seems right to share.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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