I enjoy writing this column very much, but I am equally passionate about gardening, which allowed me to procrastinate and put off writing this column. Those frequent readers of my column know my love of the sport. Yes, I consider gardening a sport, after all, I strategize, sweat and need Gatorade breaks, so I treat it as I would a sport, constantly trying to hone my craft and improve every year. Callouses, bug bites, and occasional cuts and bruises are my sport injuries and rusty tomato cages make tetanus shots a must. Like sports equipment, gardening equipment requires some upkeep or an occasional upgrade from time to time as one would a golf club or new baseball mitt. After breaking five hoes in two years, this year I upgraded to a hoe made by Homestead Iron that was forged in the Ozark Mountains.
I also love to talk about gardening as others talk about sports. “How about those Os?” spurns more conversation than “How are your hoes?”
As I dig, weed, seed and water, I often find myself alone in conversation. Actually, talking to plants passes the time while gardening by yourself; they are great listeners and don’t talk back to you, unless you count wilting as talking back. However, one sided conversations don’t answer all the questions I have about gardening, which leads me to the benefits of community gardening! I have always thought of community gardening as a spot for people who don’t have a place of their own to garden, like someone who lives in an apartment or condominium or has a very shady yard. But as I read and research about community gardens, I have learned that many people do it for the namesake: “community.” Being a part of a community garden gives one the opportunity to commune with others about their craft, and share tips, tools, seeds, and sometimes the food they grow.
We have several community gardens in Dorchester, Talbot and Queen Anne’s counties, and I had the pleasure of speaking to some of these busy organizers. In Dorchester County, the Community Garden at Waugh Chapel United Methodist Church is a shining example of all that a community garden can be. I spoke with Kathy Burtman, a Master Gardener with University of Maryland – Dorchester Extension office, who has been with the garden since its inception; and, along with Robin Herman, lead the community garden space. Located behind the Chapel on High Street are 52 raised beds that are 12 feet by 4 feet; some are 12 inches deep and others are 24 inches deep.
Emmanuel Johnson started the gardens when he was minister at Waugh Chapel about eight years ago with the idea of building community through garden space. Today, most beds are reserved but about 10 are left for the small fee of $5.
The Waugh Gardens’ volunteers grow one bed of herbs for everyone to share and two beds of native flowers for pollinators. Almost all of the participating gardeners grow vegetables in their beds with tomatoes being the most common vegetable grown. Empty beds not claimed for the season get planted by volunteers and the plants are cared for, harvested and donated to the local food bank. People who have surplus vegetables often share with others or donate to the food bank as well.
To get the season started, “Planting Day” is held in early May and some plants and seeds are provided to the gardeners to “jump start the season.” Kathy and the stewards of this community garden think of the space as a learning environment and on Wednesdays a Master Gardener is available for a few hours to answer any gardening questions the patrons may have. The beauty of the space is that everyone can learn from each other and share with each other.
Similarly, in Chester, the Galilee Community Garden is also an excellent model of what a community garden can be. It is spearheaded by Larry Lorenz and Cathay Miller, a Master Gardener with the Queen Anne’s County Extension Office. The garden is located on the property of Galilee Lutheran Church and supported by the church by extending the use of property, water and parking. What began as five beds has now turned into 25 beds with the help of Boy Scout Troop 495. Several Eagle Scout projects have added beds, a bridge, a water system, compost area and a few handicapped accessible beds raised to 24 inches high. These accessible beds are thoroughly enjoyed by patron Pearly May who gardens from her chair at the age of 93. She started gardening at the age of three, so she has plenty of knowledge to share with others in the garden community. The Girls Scouts have also added to this garden vista with a bee house. In addition to providing garden beds for the community, the Galilee Community Gardens also provide gardening education opportunities with 30 minute “how to” sessions on subjects like “How to Grow Tomatoes,” and four demonstration beds. The learning beds include herbs, pollinator plants, perennials, and a demonstration garden.
In Talbot County, both St. Michaels and Oxford have community gardens. The Oxford Community Garden was started around 2016 and is available to the residents of Oxford with 30 of the 33 beds currently in use. The St. Michaels Community Garden is in its 11th year and boasts 40 beds that are currently all reserved.
Community Gardens are not a new concept. In the 1890s, Detroit created a municipally sponsored program using vacant lots. The recession fueled the plan and over 1,700 people received plots from the city in which to garden on. Other cities, such as Philadelphia, would follow the example and establish a similar program that would last through World War I.
As some urban gardens were abandoned, “School Gardens” were imagined and created. A school garden advocate in the early 1900s, Fannie Griscom Parsons wrote that gardens should be “…used as a means to show how willing and anxious children are to work, and to teach them in their work some necessary civic virtues; private care of public property, economy, honesty, application concentration, self-government, civic pride, justice, dignity of labor, and love of nature by opening to their minds the little we know of her mysteries, more wonderful than a fairy tale.” (Smithsonian Institute.) I share this wonderful quote because her concept still holds true some hundred years later, and I believe its applicable to all ages and to all people.
As the economy improved, garden programs would be abandoned only to reemerge reimagined as the economy fluctuated throughout the 20th century. Community Gardens would wax and wane over the next 100 years. With each reawakening, they were promoted by the definition of the times. Gardening would be a patriotic act in World War I as the government promoted “Liberty Gardens.” “Thrift Gardens” during the Depression would be followed by “Victory Gardens” in World War II.
With the rise of big agriculture and an improving economy after World War II, community gardens would fade for decades until the 1970s when there was an environmental reawakening. This environmental reawakening was timed perfectly with my childhood, and as I was exposed to the joys (and disappointments) of gardening it instilled in me a lifetime love and longing for digging in the dirt.
Community gardens are springing up everywhere and each new plot comes with it a chance to learn, share and grow with others. If you would like to join or upstart a community garden of your own, there are resources provided below. If you garden alone as I do, seek out your fellow gardeners and share stories. Whether we garden alone or in a community garden we must remind ourselves we are all teammates. Every spring we get our equipment ready, stretch our bodies, watch the weather and work in seasonal unity to make our plates our own and our communities a little greener.
Cathy Schmidt writes from Trappe where she and her husband Chef Brian Schmidt own Garden and Garnish Catering. A food explorer, Cathy loves to garden and cook from scratch. She is also a University of Maryland Master Gardener with the Talbot County Extension Office.
Local Community Gardens
Queen Anne’s County
Galilee Community Garden, Galilee Lutheran Church in Chester
On Facebook @GalileeCommunityGarden
Community Garden at Waugh Chapel United Methodist Church, Cambridge
On Facebook @Cambridge Community Garden at Waugh Chapel
St. Michaels Community Garden at the St. Michaels Community Center
Oxford Community Garden
Oxford Town Office, www.oxfordmd.net
University of Maryland Extension
House & Garden: The Rise and Rise of Community Gardening in the U.K. https://apple.news/A6lWKVruORa-fB810kl0m1g
“Philadelphia Horticultural Society Keeps Growing for the Greater Good”
Best hoe ever.
Cornell Garden Based Learning (includes maintenance considerations)
Cornell-Sowing the Seeds of Success
Starting a community garden.
Vermont Garden Network-Garden Resources
Smithsonian Gardens’ Community of Gardens