Homeyer: Growing gardens and community

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(HOST) Commentator and Gardening Guy Henry Homeyer says the middle of winter is the perfect time to plan a garden – to grow food, flowers, and community.

(HOMEYER) My friend Rita has a tidy house in Cornish Flat, NH. It sits on a large patch of green lawn that is mowed and maintained nicely. I’ll have to admit I was surprised when she agreed to let me dig up a 9 by 12-foot piece of it to plant a vegetable garden for her last spring. I was testing my theory that ordinary people can grow vegetables without devoting their lives to the garden. I thought half an hour a day would be enough, but I kept track and found that 15 minutes a day – or less – was really all it took.

In addition to the vegetables we grew, I think one of the chief benefits of the garden was that all the neighbors in Cornish Flat wanted to know about Rita’s garden, so they came to visit. As they walked down School Street to the Post Office, people would see her sitting on a lawn chair in the sun with her feisty little pug, Queenie. Early in the season they would amble over to ask her why someone had dug up part of her lawn. Later they would stop to look at the tomatoes or beans to see how they were doing.

Many people in Cornish Flat garden, and most gardeners are both curious and opinionated. We like to see how someone deals with the same issues we do. When the Japanese beetles found Rita’s pole beans I refused to spray toxins on them. Sure, I said, we could spray, but then I wouldn’t want to eat the beans. Rita’s older than I am, and may have been surprised by my position. She was gardening in the 1960’s when gardeners were told that there can be a better world through chemicals. The government has always said that pesticides are safe if used as directed. But I disagree so I picked off the Japanese beetles by hand and drowned them in soapy water. And so long as I turned up to pick them every day, we were able to keep them under control – in just a few minutes.

Next year Rita has said she’d like to be more active in the vegetable garden herself. We’re both members of the Cornish Garden Club, and I’m going to encourage the club to sponsor a vegetable seed swap in the spring. Having a garden is a good way to save money in these tough times, and sharing seeds makes economic sense. For a small garden, a full packet of carrot or lettuce seeds is too much. So why not share with others, whether you’re in a club or not? Gardening is about more than just vegetables. It can grow friendships and strong neighborhoods, too.

AP Photo/Lee Reich

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