A City’s Shared Gardens

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July 23, 2014, Washington, DC: I used to love walking through Fort Mason’s not-so-secret city garden when I lived in San Francisco. I’d see people awake in the early morning, hard at work tending to their tomatoes and peppers and roses. Their tiny plots were so precious to them. I remember thinking how lovely it would be to one day have a little square of my own there in the shadow of the tall trees and footpath lining the San Francisco Bay, just over the crest of the hill from triathletes swimming laps in open water at the Aquatic Park. I also remember thinking I might not ever live in one place long enough to make it happen. It takes a large degree of certainty about a place to commit to growing produce. It implies a person has a family dinner table to bring it home to. It suggests they’re not packing any boxes just yet and will remain there to see the bulbs they planted months ago bloom in spring. As much as I loved that shared city garden, I wasn’t sure I’d ever commit to one place long enough to grow fruits and vegetables. Even in my favorite city in the world.

More than ten years later, and as confident as a wandering soul can be that I’m not moving for at least the foreseeable future, I still admire the gardeners who tend to these shared spaces. When I walk past the Hilton Community Garden close to home on Capitol Hill or the Biltmore Triangle Garden in my old neighborhood of Adams Morgan or the communal garden in Shaw that a neighborhood nomad introduced me to not long ago, I admire the gardeners there for the same reasons I admired those at Fort Mason. They’re committed. They intend to stay put. They are certain enough about this place they call home to put a stake in the ground and declare they belong.

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