We have been partners in our community garden in Longmeadow, Massachusetts for 15 years. Our love of gardening stems from our childhood. Our heritage is one of farmers—Linda’s grandparents had a farm in Monson, Massachusetts and Karen’s great aunt had a farm in Enfield, Connecticut. As children, we both spent family time with our parents and relatives enjoying all of the pleasures and all of the hard work of farming.
Our community garden is like a neighborhood, there are renters and there are owners. The renters may only stay for a year or two but the owners stay until they retire and move to a warmer climate or until they can no longer manage their plots. Over the years, we have had many neighbors. Some of our neighbors have known a lot of about gardening and others have known very little. Renter or owner, they all have one thing in common, they are willing to share their seeds, crops and what knowledge they have.
You can often determine the cultural background of a gardener by what they plant. We met one of our favorite gardeners our first year in the garden. He was an elderly retired gentleman of Italian decent. He was very generous and spent hours in his garden and helping his neighbors with their gardens. He grew pole beans, tomatoes, peppers, basil and eggplant. His garden was pristine with perfectly straight rows of healthy large vegetables. He willingly shared his knowledge with those that needed help. He would make a big barrel of organic fertilizer to share with everyone. We were amazed that there were never any weeds in his garden. It was always perfect with straight rows of healthy vegetables.
It was sad when he could no longer garden but for a few years his children maintained his plot and they would often bring him to visit the garden. We were all happy to see him and chat. His plot has had a few owners since but, of course, it has never been the same.
Our garden has always been half vegetables and half flowers. Each year we plant a vegetable that we have never planted. The choice has been as simple as carrots or as challenging as artichokes. Some have been successful but some have failed. That is all part of gardening.
Our garden abuts conservation land so some of our neighbors use fencing to keep the animals from damaging their crops. We use soap around the perimeter and scarecrows. We have three handmade scarecrows, a woman, a man and a cat. They are affectionately named after loved ones. Each spring we visit our closets or a second hand clothing store to dress them. And, in late September they also get dressed for Halloween!!! It has worked better than a fence for the past fifteen years.
Our garden serves as our retreat and has given us many rewards. We have built new relationships from a wide variety of backgrounds. We have shared many happy times and some difficult times with each other while we garden. Our flowers have been used for many special occasions including an engagement party, a 90th birthday party and many family reunions. We were thrilled one day to find a note in our garden that was left by a passerby asking if they could pick some of our flowers for a special occasion. It is delightful to share vegetables that you have grown from seeds with family and friends and watch their faces in amazement. Of course, it is always good to have a friend visit your garden because it always results in a good weeding the day before.
A few years ago, one of our newer neighbors had an uninvited guest. This was her first year in the garden. She was wearing head phones and had her head down and did not see the black bear entering her garden. Other gardeners were calling to her but she could not hear them because of the head phones. Eventually, they got her attention and she was able to run safely to a home nearby. The next year we were concerned that she might not return to garden but she did. No matter how long you garden, you are always learning something new.
Watching and listening to the birds in the garden in the early morning and eating a warm tomato off the vine for breakfast or sharing a glass of wine and some cheese in the evening with a friend is always a great way to relax and just enjoy life.
-Story contributed by Linda M. and Karen M.