Beyond the Waitlist

By Jane Monteagle

Every morning I wake to songbirds—on my iPhone. This urbanite’s alarm is a wake-up call to stay connected to nature. It’s why I garden. In my country of origin, I had room to grow food, flowers, even trees no matter my living space. That changed when over thirty years ago I transplanted myself to Santa Monica to live in a second story apartment with no balcony.

Back then, the sight of a community garden was so foreign that when I first saw the plot figurations at the Santa Monica Main Street Gardens, I thought them vestiges of a cemetery! Upon discovering there was a long waitlist, I decided to find some other way back to gardening.

Recently, after reading the SMDP article on Luffa Sponges in “Gardening and Community” I visited the Main Street Gardens again. I was greeted by community gardeners who also volunteer as Site Representatives on the Community Garden Advisory Committee. I told my way-back-when waitlist story and learned that the current waitlist is at 800 people for 125 plots.

The desire to garden is understandable, especially as gardens signify hope. To quote Audrey Hepburn, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” The health benefits of gardening are such that some doctors are prescribing it over drugs. Community gardens not only facilitate our individual connections with nature, but also our connections to each other and the environment at large.

While Santa Monica community gardeners work with city staff to increase the number of allotments, here, in the meantime, are some resources and avenues by which anyone waiting or wanting to garden can connect with the soil:

Show up to breakfast at the Main Street Gardens on the second Saturday of any month, or for pancakes at Ishihara Park on a third Saturday. Both events are free, and you’ll meet current gardeners and other volunteers. Ask if anyone with a plot is looking for assistants—yes, garden assistants are a thing. Offer to write a gardening article—your research will connect you with gardens and gardeners. Would a neighbor-in-need appreciate an offer of help to tend their garden? The Communal Garden Program at Ishihara Park provides hands-on planting and harvesting opportunities. Check the City of Santa Monica’s Community and Cultural Services webpage or email gar-dens@smgov.net for more information.

My garden path took me from windowsill pots, until insects arrived, to containers in the apartments’ courtyard, until the landlord padlocked the faucets and swept up containers. The novelty of hauling buckets of gray water down two flights of steps to a trough of plants in front of my parked car wore off after a couple of years. My attempt to guerrilla garden among the palm trees in the apartments’ street-facing allotment worked until the contracted gardeners discovered my squatters.

Then I attended a class by David King, master gardener and manager at the Venice High School Learning Garden, and discovered, after years of driving by and admiring the green corner at Walgrove and Venice, that this was both a school and community garden, volunteers welcome. I began by tending the compost heap. After a couple of months, I was allotted a planter box for my own growing. I enjoyed the company of other volunteers, learned from master gardeners, and at-tended garden events. I was happy with my lot, so to speak, until…much of the garden had to be sacrificed to a temporary construction road.

When that same Learning Garden called for volunteers recently, I returned for a cleanup day. I mentioned the research I was doing for this article and fellow gardeners offered these re-sources:

Katarina Eriksson, horticulturist, is calling for volunteers to participate in the soon-to-be-re-opened, Venice H.S. Learning Garden. Her email is katsflowers@gmail.com.

Azita Banu, garden manager at the Holy Nativity Church in Westchester, offers volunteers time to garden every Thursday at 3 p.m. till sunset or every second Saturday per month, 8 a.m.-11 a.m. Contact azitabanu@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, I’d noticed an unkempt patch of garden fronting the Church in Ocean Park at Hill and Second Streets, an area designated “historic” in Santa Monica. Inquiring with Janet McKeithen, the pastor, I found the volunteer gardener’s position wide open. I’m now the steward of a delightful space that includes a peach and a lime tree and easy access to water. While not a community garden as such, it generates community. I get offers of help, and passersby stop to admire and inquire. All are welcome to walk the garden path among the vegetables and flowers.

Just as this volunteer’s impatience and persistence paid off, you too might reap the rewards of gardening if, while waiting for a plot, you take the initiative and forge your own way to getting your hands in the soil.

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4 Comments

  1. When I moved here 9 years ago I got on the wait list and never was called. My husband and I always had homes with gardens which we loved to tend. Our condo has a small patio. My husband has died and my body is too old to enjoy the work but it brighten my morning reading about your adventures in gardening.

  2. I love this article! Thank you for sharing these ideas. As a former Recreation and Parks commissioner and a longtime community gardener myself, I do know of plenty of other lots and places that the city could, with a little more commitment (and encouragement from the public), turn into community garden spaces. There is a state law that allows property owners to be exempt from some property taxes if the majority of their land is used for urban agriculture. This state law needs to be adopted locally to be put into place. The City Council should act on this at the earliest possible time, so any landowners (like the one on San Vicente between 4th and 7th Streets, whose property has been vacant since the Northridge earthquake) could possibly take advantage of the tax breaks to offer their property for neighbors to garden in.

  3. Thank you for the nice mention in your article.
    I am one of many volunteers at The Learning Garden and not in charge of volunteers.
    For more information about this jewel of a Garden, please check out
    http://tlgdaily.blogspot.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/VHlearninggarden/
    http://www.thelearninggarden.org/
    To help out
    http://www.thelearninggarden.org/get-inolved/

    to find them
    they are on the corner of
    Walgrove Avenue and Venice Blvd.
    Los Angeles, California
    WINTER HOURS
    Wednesday – Friday, 3PM – 5PM
    Saturday – Sunday, 10AM – 5PM
    Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

    m.me/VHlearninggarden
    Call (310) 722-3656

    If you are interesting in expanding your gardening skills, David King Garden Master is teaching classes,
    http://tlgdaily.blogspot.com/p/classes-with-david-king-what-to-do-when.html

  4. Thank you Jane, for this informative and inspirational article. I too am a gardener. And am happy to have found my place in the world. Gardening gives me joy and purpose in my life. I hope to see you soon, among the fruits and flowers.

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