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All Together Now


What is it about starting a community garden that makes people react as if you just pulled a cocker spaniel puppy out of a top hat?

“We just started a community garden at the end of our block!”

“Awwww.”

“We just planted seven hundred cucumber plants and one radish!”

“Awwww.”

“We just harvested another dog vomit fungus patty!”

“Awwww. We mean, eewwww!”

You know how much I hate writing facts. But it’s true that I’ve helped create a community garden in my neighborhood and it’s true that, so far, dog vomit fungus has been our most successful crop. We expect that to change. By the way, dog vomit fungus is actually a slime mold with great expectations. Charles Dickens was the first to document this phenomenon. Try Googling it. Go ahead, try.

But back to the garden. I love the idea that we are gardening on a “double-wide.” It makes me believe that we could hook the whole thing up to the back of a pickup and drive it around the country, park it in a suburb of Cleveland for awhile, maybe visit the Grand Canyon. Actually, it just means that the garden is on two side-by-side city lots. Which is not nearly as interesting as imagining driving the whole thing to Aunt Lacey’s place in North Dakota and parking it in her front yard.

But back to the garden. A group of us decided to start a garden in our neighborhood because we were concerned that having a litter-ridden, weed-and-junk-tree-choked lot with crumbling sidewalks and a rusting fence was making the gangbangers depressed. After all, pretty much none of them actually live on the block, which means they have to do their drinking, drug dealing and graffiti art courses on the corner. And let’s face it — that corner was pretty darned shabby. We owed it to them.

So we contacted the guy who owns the property. He is a darling. Not only did he tell us that we could put a garden there, he also made sure that we would mow the weeds, clean up the litter (which spontaneously generates in our little neighborhood) and chop the huge fallen tree trunk into manageable logs. And then, to put the cherry on the tomato, so to speak, he told us he could quite possibly sell that lot tomorrow (you never know — the housing market could also suddenly sprout wheels and think it’s my uncle the go-cart), which means that he’d give us about an hour to pack up and get off of his lawn. When we heard the terms of the agreement, we couldn’t believe our good luck. High fives and shots of tequila all around.

Now there was a teeny, tiny issue of lead in the soil. Some of you might have read an article I wrote in the previous issue of this very magazine. You know, the one where I discovered that if I planted tulip bulbs made of green Kryptonite, Superman could spread a blanket and have a picnic on top of them and be perfectly shielded from their nasty effects because there’s that much lead in my soil.

Since I live only five doors down the block, we on the garden committee figured that you could probably manufacture bullets from the soil on the corner lot. So we called NASA, which is running out of things to do, and had them ship us some extra fabric that can withstand reentry into Earth’s atmosphere from space and we used it as a barrier to keep the lead out of our pants–er, plants.

Speaking of space, I’m running out of it here and we haven’t even gotten to the part where we created the layered garden bed. We piled cardboard, then mulch, then cardboard, then mulch, then NASA space fabric, then mulch, then more cardboard, then more mulch, then more space fabric, then soil. We think we have the lead contamination thing licked, but we need to climb ladders to water the garden. We’ve taken the idea of a raised bed to a whole new level…literally.

The dog vomit fungus is thriving and we don’t have to stake our squash vines–we just let them trail down the sides of our 20-foot high raised beds. And when the gangbangers — who seem much happier now — look at our “green wall,” they say, “Awwww.” And then they look for something to spray-paint gang signs on. Ah, the power of community.

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questions

Would it help to apply a starter fertilizer on a poor green lawn in December? Will it give it a head start for spring? It hasn’t been reseeded.

I have read that purple coneflowers (Echinacea) are a good source of food for birds in the winter. Will they be okay if not trimmed back until spring? If so, how early should they be trimmed?

I plan on saving my amaryllis bulbs that I kept outside over summer, but I noticed red streaks on the inner side of the leaves. What caused that? Will I be able to save my bulbs?

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