This sweet little article runs today in The Portland Sentinel and can be read in today's print issue on the street, or online here. Thanks to Cornelius for the opportunity to write about community and neighborhood through our adventures in gardening.
One of the main reasons I wanted a house to call our own was to have a garden. And lucky for us? We found North Portland. Portsmouth, to be exact. 11 years ago my partner and I began gardening in North Portland and we’ve never looked back.
And in the beginning? We began gardening in the back. Privacy. Fence. Separation of church and state—I mean separation of neighbors. This queer couple was moving into a clearly defined, blue collar neighborhood and who knew how we’d be welcomed? Our answer? Party on the side, privacy in the back. Civility all out front.
But the gardening bug took over and the itch to expand took hold, and we moved onto the front of the house and craziness ensued. Out came the standard grass, and in went the vegetable beds, along with flower after flower after shrub. I’m sure this seemed crazy to some of our dear neighbors who “mow’n’blow.” But that’s okay. We love them anyway.
I learned, early on, that the gardeners’ creed is about sharing the abundance of which you have, so today I dig and divide the lambs’ ears gifted to me, to help a new gardener getting her first start on growing.
And I’ve seen how gardening can change your experience in your own neighborhood. One house has removed the bars on its windows and the new residents are tending an herb garden out front. And for us, our front yard is a whole new world. It’s social hour. Happy hour on North Van Houten. We catch up with our neighbors, swap tomato growing tips, share starts of abundant growers. Every spring we dump bags of marbles (hopefully found on clearance at our local Fred Meyer) into our front gravel paths, specifically for kids visiting our garden to discover and enjoy. And enjoy they do. Between the kids and the squirrels, hundreds of marbles disappear every year from our garden. It’s a good thing.
I think about the fellow gardeners in our neighborhood, those I know and don’t know. Gardeners are giving; we share apples, plums, pears, sunchokes left in boxes at the curb. My eye has been trained to find the unpicked fig trees in the neighborhood. And my 95-year old neighbor Rudy and I know the best unpicked apple trees within a mile vicinity: especially those sweet, huge Gravensteins. Visitors pass through our garden, inquiring as to the identity of this flower, sometimes even arguing over its real name. I love that.
Gardening brings neighbors together, creating friends, camaraderie and opportunity for conversation. What are you growing in your neighborhood? I dare you to grow zucchini in your front yard this year. And I triple dog dare you to meet a new neighbor while doing it.