Barnraising a Garden

It was 6:30 am on a Saturday morning, and I was headed down to Lawndale to begin the garden installation. The sun was just glowing over the horizon and there was no one on the freeway. The air smelled fresh and cool, my spirit bubbling like champagne. It was a perfect day to break ground.

Had it been only 6 weeks since I’d first visited the Burton’s and walked out into their 40 x 60’ backyard? They had been selected by First Tuesday as this year’s amazing family to support. (First Tuesday is a national non-profit organization dedicated to creating a sense of community among extraordinary women.) Other First Tuesday members would be focusing on the interior, but I went out to see if there was anything I could do for the exterior.

I remember catching my breath as I walked out. The obstacles were tremendous, but so was the potential: there was no irrigation, not even a hose in the back yard. Any watering had to be done by hand, carrying buckets of water from the garage. The ‘weed-grass’ was brown, there was a dead palm tree, and they had piled slats of wood by the house to keep intruders out. It’s only redeeming qualities were a huge maple tree, a fig tree smothered in one back corner, and a tiny vegetable plot that had been carved out by one of the family members.

But this vegetable plot became the source of inspiration – it was such an opportunity, and there were so many possibilities: A much needed outdoor living space, a play space, a source for healthy organic fruits and vegetables, a habitat for birds and butterflies. It was a place that could invite life and joy.
I forgot to mention the other significant obstacle – we had extremely limited funds, everything would need to be donated. It was going to take a miracle to make this happen. And so I began to imagine what we could make of this yard: vegetable beds, fruit trees, a native garden that would invite pollinators, an area for a BBQ, and shrubs that would hide the view of their neighbors.

If I had let myself, I would have freaked out at what I was undertaking, but I had a plan, and if that didn’t work, we could always go to Plan B. If absolutely necessary, there was always Plan C. And that became my mantra: we can always go to Plan B.

And at every huge step, whether it was installing a brand new irrigation system, building five 4 x 12 foot vegetable beds, or installing the nine donated fruit trees, we always started with Plan A, and went from there. But the amazing thing was, most of the time we got Plan A – because others joined in the miracle that was creating this garden! I was astounded, blown away by how friends and strangers got on board with the project. Landscape contractors, nurseries, distributors offered to donate their time, their materials, their support. The Burton’s had their community volunteer to help with the installation, First Tuesday members worked the inside of the house and the outside, and friends and family jumped in with both feet and got dirty along with us.

This was not an easy task, not by a long shot. We were pulling up weeds to make way for the vegetable beds, trenching thru heavy clay soils to install the irrigation, and dragging out load after endless load of ivy and dead branches to stuff in the dumpster. At all ages, all backgrounds, all levels of skill and strength, we worked. Some with shovels, and picks, hoes, and rakes to work the soil. Others picked up needle and thread to repair the outdoor furniture. Still others brought their experience and tools to cut and drill and install the hardscape and vegetable beds. We were hot and dirty and smelly. But as we sat down that first day for lunch, there was such a huge sense of accomplishment, of pride at what we were doing, what we were pulling off. And then my stomach clenched at the thought of what was still left to do the following day.

But we were committed, and volunteers came back – the next day, the next weekend, and the weekend after that until we were finally done. Old faces, new faces, the family who just wanted their life back, plugged away. The last weekend, we finally planted the vegetable beds. We had seedlings and a plethora of seed packets donated by one of our angels, a master gardener who adopted us and shared her wealth of knowledge and tools.

And one by one, we filled those great big empty planters until they glowed – with tomatoes, beans, lettuce, squash, strawberries, onions, broccoli and cauliflower. The earth was rich and vibrant, thriving with earthworms. I stood then and looked around noting the bees and butterflies feeding on golden blooms, the hummingbirds dive bombing around us, the air filling with the twittering of new winged visitors. As I took this in, my heart expanded with what we had accomplished, for the family, for each other, for the earth. We had brought this garden to life.

No, it hadn’t been easy, and it certainly wasn’t always fun, but it had been gratifying, and soul-filling, and so very very important.

Weeks later, when we were done and celebrating, someone asked what I had learned. I had to laugh, the list was so long, but here goes: I learned that persistence pays off, that you have to ask for help, that we are capable of more than we think, that there is such an innate goodness and generosity in the world, that miracles do happen – all the time and all around. And that perhaps the greatest miracle of all is the power and joy that comes when a community comes together to help.

Poetic Plantings
Landscape Design