my garden

Image description: close-up of a calendula blossom in a basket hanging from a rail.

Image description: close-up of a calendula blossom in a basket hanging from a rail.



Image description: a cluster of potted plants on a balcony.

Image description: a cluster of potted plants on a balcony.

Image description: potted plants along a staircase.

Image description: potted plants along a staircase.

Image description: a large nasturtium bush outside a building with other bushes around it.

Image description: a large nasturtium bush outside a building with other bushes around it.

These nasturtiums were my first guerrilla gardening project. I bought a four-pack at the nursery and planted these two seedlings in a bare spot outside my apartment building. I thought for sure that the owner would tear them up the moment he saw them, but instead they were left to grow.

Image description: small strawberries growing in a pot.

Image description: small strawberries growing in a pot.

Image description: a jasmine vine with new growth.

Image description: a jasmine vine with new growth.

Image description: French lavender in the foreground with other potted plants behind it.

Image description: French lavender in the foreground with other potted plants behind it.

Image description: potted nasturtiums in bloom.

Image description: potted nasturtiums in bloom.

Image description: a green strawberry in a basket hanging from a rail.

Image description: a green strawberry in a basket hanging from a rail.

Image description: four ripe strawberries in someone's hand.

Image description: four ripe strawberries in someone's hand.

For awhile, things were going okay. But then:

Image description: a close-up of calendula leaves, the undersides of which are covered in aphids.

Image description: a close-up of calendula leaves, the undersides of which are covered in aphids.

Image description: runner bean leaves turning yellow and wilting.

Image description: runner bean leaves turning yellow and wilting.

My aphid problem is out of control. They’ve killed almost everything in my windowsill and my outdoor window box, and there’s not a ladybug for miles. It’s so hard to do something good in a climate that’s bent on doing harm – an urban climate that’s inhospitable to ladybugs and butterflies but allows aphids and roaches to flourish, a passive consumer climate that offers zero support for people trying to produce their own food. The local community garden organization isn’t returning my phone calls, despite its supposed need for volunteers, and whenever I respond to people’s messages on the guerrilla gardening forum, it seems they either lose interest or cease to exist.

When I complain about the lack of organizations and like-minded people around me, the response is always, “Start something!” How many of you have had this dismissal cheerfully thrown in your face? Want something to happen? Just start it! Just snap your fingers and the volunteers will arrive, the space will be found, the raised beds built, the topsoil and compost and mulch installed, and the seeds tended to. Just snap your fingers and all the other jobs and projects you’re busy with will fall away! Just start something! Just do it! We’re not going to help, of course – but good luck with it, you crazy activist you!

I suppose people believe they’re being encouraging when they tell someone to “start something.” But “I’ll help you start something” would be far more encouraging.

Because newsflash: healing cannot happen without support. I’m not going to berate the people around me for not being gardeners, but it’s profoundly lonely to be the only one around with a particular interest. Where are all the other gardeners? Is it really so bizarre to feel this excitement at watching things grow, this fear when I bite into an apple grown a thousand miles away? My garden wouldn’t be dying if there were people who could help me with it. If it was other people’s garden, too. It wouldn’t be so impossible to find a community garden plot if community gardens were supported by cities. It wouldn’t be so hard to keep my plants alive if my neighborhood had been built with the health of plants in mind.

Healing cannot happen without support. My doctor ordered an MRI for my back, but I can’t afford an MRI. Now what? I don’t know. Again, I find myself working around a system designed to encourage harm and discourage healing. I want beautiful, healthy things to happen:

Image description: a double rainbow arcs over a Southern California urban landscape.

Image description: a double rainbow arcs over a Southern California urban landscape.

But they can’t happen without larger systems to nurture them.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

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6 Responses

  1. That’s lovely despite aphids.

  2. wish i could set you up with my food garden obsessed friends – in massachusetts.

  3. I feel you on this. I am a wannabe gardener who has come up against a lot of problems. It’s not easy to learn. So much knowledge about food production has been lost. I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel and failing miserable. But I think it’s worth the effort. Each year, I learn a little more, and one of these years, I’ll be able to really eat from my garden, as opposed to little treat here and there.

  4. I know the post isn’t really about the aphids, per se, and it sounds like it’s too late for this batch of plants, but this includes a variety of options, some chemical, which I’m sure you want to avoid, but many of them not (and I’m sure you’ve tried different things, just … trying to help). When I was in Peace Corps (where my gardening actually was more successful than here, but then, Arizona is a tough climate for the novice), I had pretty good results with homemade pesticides and fungicides that used pretty innocuous (to us) ingredients like baking soda, chile powder and others. I used to have a really good little xeroxed pamphlet with tons of recipes and detailed instructions, but it’s been years since I’ve seen it.

  5. I’d help ya. You should move to Oakland! 😉

  6. Hang in there!! You are NOT alone, and there ARE a lot of like-minded people out there. You just have to be persistent in trying to find them. (Plus it helps if you have access to some land that gets seen by passers-by.) Here in Vancouver (BC) we have a ‘green streets’ program that allows citizens to plant in public curb-side land. You might see if your city has anything like that. And don’t give up on the local garden! If they don’t answer their phone — just go to the garden yourself and see who’s around.

    Not sure what to tell you about the MRI. That sucks. 😦

    V.

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