Getting My Hands Dirty

Dear Liza,

It is still too wet and chilly to plant seeds in our garden plot, but there is a lot of work to be done, anyway.

Our plot, 25G, waiting for us…

The City of Portland has 57 of these Community Gardens, in a program that has been running since 1975. When you sign up to have a plot, you pay between $20 and $220, depending on the size of your plot, and promise to help maintain the whole garden, donating a few hours during the year to keep things in good shape.

The hated Lessor Celadine!

Our General Manager, Ruth, sent out an email alerting us to work that needs doing. Public paths need weeding and covering in burlap, to make them less muddy. Fence lines need to be cleaned up. Vacant plots need help.

Ruth described the newest weed invading the garden, the Lessor Celadine, so perfectly that I recognized it right away. It is a type of wort with pretty round leathery leaves and a bright yellow flower. It is tempting to leave it alone, but apparently it spreads like wildfire and will take over an area.

So on Monday, I put one of our trash-collecting buckets in Dickon my red wagon, put on my coveralls and gardening shoes, and trudged up to the garden. I had decided to weed one of the public paths, a ten foot by three foot section that was weedy and goopy with mud.

Enjoying the silence, solitude and physicality of it, I sat right on the ground and dug in. I found the Bermuda grass stolens and dug them out, as well as the hated Lessor Celadine. An hour and a half later I was muddy and worn, but very, very happy. The path looked better, too.

All cleaned out and ready for burlap
In the rubbish!

I met a fellow gardener when I went to fetch the old coffee bags we use for covering the paths, and we chatted as we rested. Using Dickon the wagon to carry the heavy burlap, I covered the path with recycled coffee sacks.

Burlap keeps the mud down…

Then I packed up my weeds and trudged home, feeling every one of my 65 years. But I knew a hot shower and rest would set me right.

I am so happy in the garden! Being peacefully alone while being part of a decades-old community is wonderful.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Colonel Summers Park

Dear Liza,

In our neighborhood there is a park I haven’t told you about yet. It is called Colonel Summers Park.

IMG_6986.jpg
Himself

When it was developed as a park in 1921, it was called Belmont Park, because it was on Belmont Street. But in 1938 the name was changed to honor Colonel Owen Summers.

Colonel Summers was a Civil War veteran who, in 1883, combined all the local militias in Oregon (volunteer soldiers) into one group that was The Oregon National Guard. At the beginning of the Spanish American war in 1898, Colonel Summers organized this group into the 2nd Oregon Volunteer Infantry Regiment, with himself in command. They were the first American soldiers to sail to the Philippines in that war. After many engagements, Colonel Summers and his men accepted the surrender of 15,000 Spanish soldiers.

IMG_6990.jpg
Bioswale and paved area

The soldiers who fought under Colonel Summers’s command remained loyal to him even after the war. In 1903, General Beebe, another famous military man, was chosen to be the Grand Marshall of a parade honoring President Teddy Roosevelt to Portland.

IMG_6993.jpg
Community Garden

The Spanish American War veterans saw this as an insult to their beloved commander and at first refused to be in the parade if Colonel Summers wasn’t the Grand Marshall. But Colonel Summers refused the post, asking General Beebe to remain. The veterans, following their commander’s order, marched in the parade without him.

The park named after Colonel Summers had been getting a little worn in recent years. The huge boulder from Kelly Butte with a plaque of himself had been spray painted. The grassy area had been flooded and was muddy or dusty, depending on the season. But a new makeover has made it lovely again. The boulder has been cleaned, and the flood-prone grassy area has been outfitted with a bioswale to collect rain and a paved bike and skateboard area. There is a basketball court and a fenced community garden where people can grow flowers, fruits, or vegetables. There is even a public toilet that cleans itself after every use! img_6991.jpg

I am happy to see that the city is working to make sure all the parks in Portland are safe and welcoming places to play, read, work, and just enjoy this wonderful area.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Urban Agriculture

Dear Liza,

With the weather getting warmer and sunnier (in between showers) the gardens of Southeast Portland are flourishing. And not just flower gardens, although the roses, peonies, ranunculous, chrysanthemums and Shasta daisies are going berserk.

The city of Portland has 53 community gardens. These are empty lots in residential areas which have been built up with raised beds, fenced and gated. People put their name on a waiting list, wait their turn, and get their hands dirty! These gardens are part of Portland Parks and Recreation Department and are a wonder to see.

All winter the gardens wait in the rain, their plots under cardboard (to keep the weeds down) or gloriously muddy. Around March, intrepid Portlanders head out in boots and slickers to place stakes or build teepees. And by June, things are busting out all over!

Yesterday while we were out walking we saw sunflowers higher than my head, beds of lettuce, and waves of berry bushes. Climbing devices await peas, beans and tomatoes. Joyful gardeners smile idiotically with the sheer joy of sunshine and soil.

Of course, with all this love of agriculture, not everyone is willing to wait for their turn in the community garden. Some folks just plant their dream farm right in their own front yard! Many yards are overshadowed by giant trees, but those with sunlight find a way.

My parents were suburban farmers. They fortified the sandy soil of Manhattan Beach, California and grew carrots, lettuce and kohlrabi. We had fruit trees and artichokes. I currently have no burning need to become an urban gardener, but it is nice to know there is a way, should the need arise.

Love,

Grandma Judy