The life of the gardener – SRQIST :: SRQ Magazine article by Olivia Liang
Sigrid Hasselbacher, Diane Decicco, Mike Read and Carol Russell exemplify the community aspect of Culverhouse Community Garden in meeting the needs of the garden. Photograph by Wyatt Kostygan
With its paths made of woodchips, bordered by overflowing low plots, Culverhouse Community Garden smells of gourmet cuisine. Located in Culverhouse Nature Park along the Legacy Trail, with 80 plots and 120 members ages 22 to “90,” Culverhouse is one of Florida’s largest community gardens. All organic, all the time, Culverhouse has members who work 16 hours together a year to enjoy the freedom of their private plots and community of gardeners. The chores are shared, the education is endless and “the only competition is between the gardeners and the critters,” says Carol Russell, a volunteer co-manager of the garden who recently lost 11 eggplants to a troupe of critters. hungry squirrels. Yet Russell is unaware of his loss, as it is simply part of being a gardener.
Each member of the community garden gets their own plot, small, medium or large, depending on their initial level of expertise. With succulents at the entrance to the garden – and orchards of cherries, lemons and avocados bordering it – the possibilities seem endless for what can flourish inside: sweet potatoes, papayas, sunflowers, pineapple, celery, figs, and nasturtiums (even loofah — the familiar shower sponge when ripe, but a tender zucchini-like snack when first harvested). Some plots are private, some are shared, and some are set aside for higher purposes, such as special plots set aside specifically to grow food for All Faiths Food Bank. But, regardless of their official ownership status, all plots are communal. Gardeners roam free and pick a sprig or two of an unfamiliar herb, or try a leaf from a curious arugula or lettuce from a gardening neighbor. “Our lives haven’t changed much,” Russell says, referring to the “new normal” brought on by the pandemic. “When you come, you work while you talk.” Today, life as a gardener is simply more remote – brainstorming recipes, discussing agronomy and attending classes given by fellow gardeners – as plants and people grow together. SRQ
Culverhouse Community Garden: culverhousegarden.org, @culverhousecommunitygarden