The Parkallen Community Garden is Growing in 2017

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The Parkallen Community Garden has a new leader: Christine Watts. All ages and abilities are welcome to meet and garden with Christine at directed gardening bees on Saturdays, 2-4 p.m. and on Wednesday Evenings, 7-8 p.m.

As always, visitors are welcome anytime and self-directed gardening is encouraged. Pull some weeds, plant (and label) something, harvest a handful of something to munch on the spot or for your dinner. See what’s coming up.

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Looks for the cheery bulbs planted by the Brownies in 2015 and 2016. We’re still growing in 2017.

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Yield by Marlene Wurfel

In my last “from the permaculture patch” article I asked you to evaluate your relationship with your garden and with our community garden. In high summer do have a garden full of flowers but can only see the few weeds? Are you grateful the snow is concealing the state of your front yard? When you spot a garden gnome, does his look strike you as smug and reproachful? If your relationship with gardening could be summed up by: “Ugh, I just haven’t been doing enough in the garden,” I asked you to stop sewing those particular seeds of shame and regret. Instead, let’s think of a garden as something that is for people, that gives more to people than it demands, and that should give more than it demands. If a garden is taking more than it is giving, we’re doing it wrong.

“Yield” is an important concept in permaculture. In order to design a green space with intention, we need to know what its purpose is. We need to know what we want our garden’s yield to be. Carrots? Beauty? Renewal? Fresh air?

What do you want from your green spaces?

If you want a private place that smells like spice lilies and sounds like wind chimes, where you can sit and sip sangria with your best friend, then make one of those, and don’t feel badly that you aren’t also growing enough turnips in that very spot to feed a monastery.

If you want to fill a root cellar with carrots and potatoes, plant carrots and potatoes, and don’t feel badly that you’re not also growing a row of every type of vegetable ever cultivated by man, including lemongrass, eggplant, and quinoa.

If you want a spot where the kids can make mud pies and kick a soccer ball, or where the dog can chew on some rawhide, don’t worry if wedding parties don’t tend to crash your back yard for photo ops.

If you’re just learning to garden or are new to Zone 3, and you want to experiment with growing cantaloupe, try growing cantaloupe, but be content that both cantaloupe and the knowledge that cantaloupe doesn’t grow very well here are a type of yield.

Do you really just want a quiet and private spot to feel the sun on your shoulders? A place to notice the seasons changing? Something pretty to look at out your kitchen window while you do dishes? One really beautiful tomato to make the best sandwich ever each September? Someplace that renews and recharges your senses and your spirit? A physical challenge?

The really empowering thing about knowing what we want our gardens to yield is that it allows us to perform the essential calculation of yield – investment = profit. Taking the time to calculate how our green spaces are benefitting us or not can help us make good decisions. We may need to repurpose our spaces and recalibrate our relationships with them. Making intentional choices can help us remove ourselves from the grim soldiering through of gardening as a chore, something we do because we must, because that is the way it is done, because that is the suburban dream dreamed up before we got our particular chunk of it and that is the way it has always been dreamt. What is important about a garden to you? Is it how it looks to neighbours and to passersby? How it looks to you? How it feels to be in that space? To spend as little time as possible working outdoors? Any of these are valid but knowing what we want our “yield” to be helps us make good decisions about what we invest. In many ways, yield is such a simple, obvious, basic concept that it’s easy to overlook.

Is there a yield you want from the Parkallen Community Garden? Is it kale? Is it basil? Connections within your community? Solitude? To learn from more experienced gardeners? To teach what you know to less experienced gardeners? Fresh air? To put some food on the family dinner table whether you are 4 or 44? The wherewithal to look the next smug and reproachful gnome you meet in the eye and say, “Look here, lil’ buddy, I helped make the Parkallen Community Garden awesome.” If there is a yield you want from the PCG, I encourage you to go and get it. Take it. Plan to take more from it than you give. Manage your time commitment – guiltlessly – to produce a positive yield.

E-mail sustainability@parkallen.ca at any time of year to be placed on the Parkallen Community Garden mailing list and to receive communications about all ages workbees and gardening events.

Guilt in the Garden by Marlene Wurfel

Since I’ve been directing the Parkallen Sprouts and the Parkallen Community Garden, I’ve been getting a new look from some of my neighbours that I didn’t used to – it’s one that signifies intense garden-related-guilt.

“No, Marlene,” they tell me when I drop by their homes, “please don’t look at my garden. It’s so full of weeds…”

Or, “The community garden looks wonderful this year and I feel so badly that I didn’t make it out even once. Maybe next year…” they sadly say with nothing at all resembling hope in their voices.

The theme is guilt, shame, and missed opportunity. Parkallen – the thing with gardens is that what you cultivate in them tends to grow. Are you cultivating guilt, shame and regret in your garden? Are you cultivating these things in our community garden? Stop it!

The Parkallen Community Garden is a permaculture project and one important element of permaculture is “obtain a yield.” That means the focus is on “getting from” a garden, not simply “putting in” for the sake of effort itself. In an ideal permaculture space, nothing is required from the gardener other than strolling through a beautiful green space, replenishing one’s self while filling a basket with healthy produce. The aim isn’t toiling but taking. The permaculturist always strives to let the soil, the sun and the rain do as much of the work as possible because their space has been planned from the onset to perform in that way. That’s why, for example, the Parkallen Community Garden has swales dug into the slope towards the hockey rink: so the garden can catch and store rain and melt water all on its own. Maximum yield for minimum effort is the end-goal. Parkallen Community Gardeners have been putting in effort to cultivate what’s been growing in the garden but, ultimately, probably less than you think. We’re striving to create a self-regulating space that gives more than it demands.

I heeded quite a few warnings when the Parkallen Community Garden was in the planning stages as a communally tended space that everybody would show up at harvest time to take but nobody would be willing to put in the effort. The reverse has tended to be true. We’re civilized people: We’ve read the “The Little Red Hen.” People are reluctant to take from the garden because they don’t feel they’ve put in the requisite effort.

My neighbor who regretted not visiting the garden that season could have walked straight there, picked enough for a dinner salad, marveled at the sunflowers, listened to the birds, tossed a dandelion into the weed bucket, tasted the mint, smooched a loved one in the sunshine, called it a season, and left. But she didn’t feel entitled. She hadn’t put enough in to take that much out. It is my sincerest wish that the Parkallen Community Garden be a place you take more from than you give. It would help me in achieving my yield from the garden – the reward and satisfaction of knowing that I’ve helped create a space in my community that replenishes, teaches, feeds and gives; not one that requires more from time-crunched urbanites than they can reasonably afford.

One of the reasons I love working with kids in the garden so much is that they have absolutely zero compunction with proudly digging up an armful of potatoes for dinner even though they were swinging on the monkey bars while someone’s mom took twenty minutes in the spring to hill the seed potatoes into the soil. Really, they can teach me as much, or possibly more, about healthy relationships to food as I can teach them.

What’s your relationship with your garden? Do you think of it as a place that demands more from you than you can give each season?  Do you think of it as a place that should demand more than it yields? Why? Would it benefit you to re-evaluate your relationship with your green spaces?

People aren’t for gardens; gardens are for people. Gardens are for feeding people, for relaxing people, for inspiring people and for replenishing people. A space that inspires guilt instead of satisfaction is not a well-designed green space.

So pretty please, Parkallen, if you’ve been scattering the seeds of guilt and shame in our community garden, or in your own gardens, just stop. Stop watering the guilt. Stop fertilizing the shame. Stop. Re-evaluate. Let’s cultivate something beautiful.