Friday, September 2, 2011

A Thickening Plot

The weeds are high and abundant around the greater beach farm these days, with ragweed and mugwort taking center stage. You wouldn't know it from this photo, as it's from June, not long after we planted our tomatoes. So long ago...

Wednesday morning, there was an access-a-ride type van parked in front of the beach farm. I couldn't believe it -my garden neighbor's were present. I had heard that a school of some sort tended the plot, but their visit firmed my understanding of the situation. Standing plot-side was a youngish-looking man, glasses thick and slightly twisted, with striped shirt buttoned to the collar, and holding a hose to the black, shriveled vine of a former tomato plant. He watered under a constant commendation from somewhere else in the garden, a man I could not see. Your doing great. I went about my business, but I wanted someone to begin a conversation. There was a young woman present as well, but she didn't look my way and was tending to a group sitting in the picnic corral.

The voice approached while I was picking tomatoes. He commandeered the hose, sent the young man to the corral, and said to me that he would like to set up a watering system much like the one at our beach farm. I was skeptical, but who couldn't see that something was necessary.

I discovered that the group comes from a "school" in Coney Island, and that their cognitive and manual dexterity levels limit their ability to garden. I inquired as to why the garden was planted, hoed under, and planted again in one week's time (two groups at the school). I learned that the garden is not the interest of the caretakers present, but a woman who they work under who apparently worked especially hard to get these plots. She, however, never comes by the garden. I also learned that she refuses to give it up, although the only reason they were there that day was because... wait, stop. 

I already knew why they were there, and that reason was me. Last week I stumbled on the most important park ranger when she came by to unlock the garden shed about an hour after I had asked another ranger if he could do so. Why is she important? As fate would have it, she is the ranger we tried to see, checkbook in hand, only a month ago, but were dispatched by an artfully executed, federal run-around. So, why not introduce myself, then ask her to come take a quick look at the beach farm? 

She turned out to be a rather animated, quite friendly lady, with lots of garden stories of her own (she lives on Staten Island). And is terribly afraid of insects. The ranger moved to touch a leaf I had placed on the fence, but it was no leaf -it was a huge tomato hornworm attached to a leaf and she skip-jumped 10 feet back! Ha, we laughed, only in a city can you have a National Park ranger who is afraid of bugs. Afterward, I showed her the irrigation system, explained why the galvanized pipes are short-lived, and talked about needing more space. She then waded through weedy aisles to see which plots were tended and which were not. Upon her return, the ranger offered to add Betsy to the waiting list -something we tried to do last winter, but to no avail. She also took my email, so we may have communication.

The man -tall, balding, with glasses appeared familiar, looking somewhat like Mike Stivic from All In The Family. He confessed that the weeds were out of control, although I felt it necessary to point out that all his plants were dead. He explained that watering has been a problem, but I discouraged him from a more complicated watering system like ours. I thought a timer with a flood system or even a sprinkler would be better. Honestly, someone just spraying it once a week would be better and requires no extra work.

He said that they are supposed to come by three days each week, but haven't been here since they planted for all the kinds of reasons you might imagine. Then he told me that in early October there is a harvest festival for which they buy vegetables from the grocery store. They pretend that they picked them at the garden. Don't feel bad, I offered, most of us participate in that ruse. But I started to wonder what therapeutic or educational value this little bit of theater has for their clients. You have a man standing there watering a dead plant? It's absurd, even sad. 

I wondered what they were capable of doing. Could they weed, plant, pick? Is there a way to get the group involved, not just sitting at the picnic tables? And then I went fishing. I offered to help them out with their garden if they would cede a certain amount of their space to me. He reiterated that his boss won't ever give up the garden. But I am not asking her to give up the garden, I'm asking her to allow a garden to grow. We can work together to plant, to harvest, maybe to weed as well, and we'll keep it watered and growing. Or, if things must remain the same, I can help you organize your plot so that you get as much out of one that you are currently getting out of two. We'll water. And, greedy me -all I ask is that you cede a portion of those two plots to my growing obsession -I have six to eight hundred allium sets to plant in November. Think about it.

One of my neighbor's two plots in June. It's now full of weeds, tomatoes dead.


  1. Geez.

    But I was laughing out loud. This is a good story.

  2. thanks. helpful to tell it.


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