For as long as Urban Farmhouse has been in existence, I’ve gardened in a rowhouse backyard in Waverly. It was my Northeast Baltimore Eden, painstakingly transformed over four years from a tangle of ivy and broken concrete to an oasis complete with annual vegetable beds, perennial flowers and herbs, a peach tree, grape arbor, deck, patio fashioned from reclaimed concrete countertops, wash station…the manifestation of the many books, articles, and classes I’d imbibed in the years before I bought my house, as well time spent puttering in pots, farms, and schoolyard gardens.
Last summer, for many and complex reasons, not the least of which was love, I traded in my brick-walled castle for a new living situation. Though it wasn’t easy giving up my sunny, lovingly renovated home and yard, the move took me to a 150-year-old stone millhouse set upon the Jones Falls Trail, shared with my beloved.
I was quickly charmed by the 2’ thick windowsills, welcoming my collection of succulents, the tight-knit group of neighbors that often stop to chat over the fence, the quick jog to the backside trails of Druid Hill Park, and the frequent whir of cyclists spinning their way north to Cylburn Arboretum or south to downtown. But the yard…oh the yard. It is ample and fenced, but it’s partly to mostly shaded, and has been the victim of many years of renters planting trees and shrubs in designed-uninfluenced (if not completely random) placements throughout.
A full rescue would take years, but there are vegetables to grow now. I have appointed a sunny little patch out front as my garden-in-exile, planted with rescues from my former abode—rhubarb, perennial herbs—as well as lettuces, onions, annual herbs and garlic. But there isn’t enough room or sun for the real garden gems: the towering tomatoes, the sprawling squash, or the climbing beans.
Luckily, Rockrose Community Garden is less than two blocks away, a sweet stroll up the trail. So, for the first time in my life, I will become a community gardener.
Ok. Time for some straight talk. For years I’ve been preaching the gospel of growing community in gardens, and actively supporting the proliferation of community green spaces in Baltimore. But in all honesty, I have always been relieved that my growing space was just that: mine. You see, I’m a bit of a control freak. The thought of sharing space—and drifting weed seeds, pests, and varying design aesthetics—with a group gives me a case of gardeners’ anxiety. But necessity is a strong teacher, so gardening with the folks I will do.
By early March, I was assured by Bill and Linda, the garden managers, that my name was on the list and a plot was assigned. There was talk of a deer fence to be installed, which would push back planting until things were settled. So while we awaited news from the city, I tucked lettuces into my front patch, and scavenged some space for cole crops in a neighbor’s yard.
This week we got news: the deer fence installation was imminent, and we would gather this weekend to remove the poles, U-posts, and netting that had been strung together to protect past year’s crops from the encroachment of an ever-growing population of deer. I would have ample space for my summer crops by last frost.
As luck would have it, a last minute puppy procurement opportunity cut my time at the garden short. I had but a half an hour to join in the effort. But those brief 30 minutes were enough to melt my community gardening reluctance: I greeted new neighbors, engaged in a friendly race to extract a deeply set post, and talked about the weather—I mean, talked about the weather on purpose, with real thoughtfulness and reverence, not just for a lack of other topics.
Turns out that was all it took to prepare me to practice what I preach. My tomatoes will have more space and sun than afforded by my former garden, and they will come with the added value of new faces made familiar, more over-the-fence chats, a brain trust for troubleshooting garden woes, and monthly gardeners’ happy hours.
My solitary backyard garden is suddenly feeling like less of a loss.