Roots and Shoots: Tales From a Community Garden

Three gardeners, three plots. What they did and what they learned.

By Pamela Doan

Mylinh Nguyen Glover

I gardened growing up with my family in Virginia; we had a lot of land in the Appalachians. When I moved to Brooklyn, I did a community garden for five years. That opened up my experience to gardening in an urban setting. Sharing experiences with gardeners there made me a better gardener. I moved here about a year ago and when I read about the community garden at Libby Healy’s, I thought it was really cool. I was sad to leave the community garden I was part of.

Ann Herrington

This was my first time in a community garden. I had my own small garden before, a small plot in front of my home in Virginia. It was magical. I didn’t know much or do much and I had a lot of good stuff. I picked out what I wanted and had someone else plant it, and then I just watered and weeded. This summer was more than my partner Rick and I had done before and we tried a few new things.

Miriam Wagner

We moved here in 1961 and had this land, five acres. I’ve been gardening on it since 1962. I tried all the vegetables and started adding flowers. It’s been a continual struggle and trial and error to get things to flower and fruit. I’ve been gardening at the community garden since the beginning, seven years ago. I love being part of a group of people who are all learning as we go. We’re each responsible for our little plot, but it’s nice to know we’re sharing the land and sunshine together.

What did you plant?

Glover: Corn, sweet potatoes, squash (overabundance), tomatoes, butternut squash, zucchini, lettuce, beets (didn’t make it). For the fall I have kale, pole beans, edamame, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I did multiple plantings. I love a variety of different things.

Herrington: Lettuce, sugar snap peas, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, basil.

Wagner: Arugula, lettuces, kale, baby potatoes, snapdragons, basil, fennel, dill, cilantro, nasturtiums, cosmos, Swiss chard.

The cosmos loved the sunshine and are still attracting bees in November. (Photo by P. Doan)  

The cosmos loved the sunshine and are still attracting bees in November. (Photo by P. Doan)

Did you try anything new this year?

Glover: I’ve grown corn before in Brooklyn and it was easy in a raised bed because you know your soil. I wasn’t sure what was possible here and if anyone prepared the soil. I know corn is very picky so I bought a bag of soil for the corn to make sure it had the right nutrients. We had an overabundance and it was wonderful.

Herrington: I learned not to use lettuce [seed] tape because I don’t know what I’m looking for and so wasn’t sure what was a weed. I needed one thing to look for and would plant individual lettuces, instead.

Wagner: My favorite thing was baby potatoes. I bought seed potatoes and dug them up when the foliage died down. We didn’t get a lot, about 10 pounds, maybe four meals worth, but it was fabulous and delicious. The flowering, fragrant sugar snap peas I started early and they were delightful. I’ve been saving seeds — nasturtiums, cosmos and the peas — for next year.

Kale looking ready to eat. (Photo by P. Doan)  

Kale looking ready to eat. (Photo by P. Doan)

How did you handle organic gardening?

Glover: It’s what I’ve always done and it wasn’t different or challenging. I took my own leaf compost from my yard and used it as mulch.

Wagner: Weed control was by hand. We did well in the spring but lost our grip on it later in the summer. I enrich the soil by adding coarse sand for texture. I get construction sand from Home Depot and sprinkle it in the row when I plant. I add compost from my pile at home and also used horse manure from Libby’s stable.

Miriam Wagner has grown dahlias in a corner of the community garden for 7 years. They're still blooming now. (Photo by P. Doan)

Miriam Wagner has grown dahlias in a corner of the community garden for 7 years. They’re still blooming now. (Photo by P. Doan)

Any advice or lessons learned?

Glover: The weeding was challenging. If you’re going to join a garden, use beds, be extremely proactive at weeding or use some sort of method to control weeds. It was worse than I expected.

Herrington: We didn’t plan well. It was sort of ad hoc and we planted what we were given. We would space differently. The squash and cucumbers needed more room. Many of us overestimate our capacity for gardening. I’d say don’t go too big or make it too challenging.

Wagner: Just grow what interests you. Once you get the gardening bug you keep exploring it. You fail a lot, but thank heavens we don’t have to survive on our efforts. In these very stressful times, we need all the horticultural therapy we can get.

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