Garden Notes -Season 2
Some Lessons Learned

By Nona Siegel

Last fall I decided that I was going to translate my fantasies into action, and stop waiting for someone else to appear and make a congregational garden happen at our synagogue.

We have a large plot, a 16×66 foot raised bed that was created years ago by a few dedicated congregants and a local Boy Scout troop. It had a few growing seasons and then had laid dormant. So the infrastructure was there, awaiting renewal.

An Eagle Scout and his troop prepared the soil and painted the infrastructure as his service project. He was a graduating senior, and went on to the adventures and challenges of building his future.  I rallied some loyal friends and garden enthusiasts in our congregation m, busy people willing to give a few hours here and there. I had excited supporters in the preschool. We planned adventures the kids could have in the garden.

We added a small raised bed within the larger garden, and used only a third of the space available. We planted artichokes, rainbow chard, strawberries, catnip.  Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, beets, carrots…cucumbers, melons, squash, sunflowers.  Herbs, kale, broccoli, cabbage.  Everything grew like crazy, a beautiful Garden of Eden.

The teachers took the children to harvest on occasion, and I visited several times a week with my grandchildren. We offered produce to staff and parents. I was struck over and over by the miracle of life, how a tiny seed knows precisely how to grow into a complex and beautiful plant. We had bees, a praying mantis, aphids and then imported ladybugs. And relentless Bermuda grass.

The garden crew was sometimes 3-4 people, sometimes 2, sometimes just me. The physicality of the work was challenging, exhilarating, daunting, grounding, centering. The heat was as relentless as the grass.

We produced enough to be excited and proud, not really enough to supply others or donate to the community. Except the rainbow chard, definitely the superhero of our garden flora. As summer came, we had to abandon our efforts, none of us having the stamina or schedules to maintain the battle against the grass.

Reflecting on the past year on the garden brings up so many feelings. The excitement of possibility, the fear of exceeding my physical limits, guilt about not being a skilled organizer, frustration over trying to motivate congregants and friends to get their hands dirt and make a real Earth connection.

So now a new season is here, fall planting season ticking away moment by moment. I am still working professionally, blessed and sandwiched by multiple generations of family nearby, fighting the despair that comes with knowing the state of our world and the fragility of past social and political gains, and feeling a deep responsibility for Tikkun Olam, healing the world. Do I have it within me to try to rally reluctant gardeners for another season? The Bermuda grass requires vigilant and dedicated warriors if we are to avoid poisons. I realize this project has to engage the community, not just a few of us.

There’s nothing like the magic of seeing things grow, experiencing the awe of the life force in the natural world. So far this year I am guiding s small garden project with the first grade Sunday school class, 19 children. As we were planting, I heard one of them say how amazing it is that a seed becomes a plant, a special piece of life.

So I’m inspired to keep cheerleading.
I’m reaching out to a broader set of people to see if there are more people who want to share the magic. We’ll see what happens.