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The Good Seed: Canton Community Victory Garden East

Lynn Coulter
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There are buckets of vegetables growing in front of Laine Kirby Wood’s home in Canton, Georgia.

Literally buckets. I have to count them fast — Laine is always on the move, and she’s sweeping me past stands of bright pink hollyhocks, borders of silvery lambs’ ear, swaths of salad greens, and beds of purple petunias, savory herbs, French marigolds, day lilies, and other flowery delights—but I see at least eight huge, plastic buckets bursting with tomato plants, potato vines, peppers, and eggplants.

There’s nothing wrong with gardening in your front yard, at least not in my book, unless you’re in a homeowners association that doesn’t permit it. Laine’s buckets are out front because that’s where the sun is. Mature trees shade much of her yard, so portable containers and clay pots let her plant wherever she wants to. But Laine’s not just pushing the envelope in her neighborhood (although her friends call her “a force of nature” for her propensity to get things done, like planting in plastic, if that’s what it takes to put ‘maters and ‘taters on the table).

Image by Lynn Coulter

An Idea Takes Root

Laine realized long ago that she wasn’t the only person who needed a bigger, sunnier garden plot, so she got busy, and her garden has taken off. In fact, you could say it’s grown right out of her yard, through the neighborhood, and down the road to 146 Big Oak Drive, where it’s taken root  on a half-acre of land owned by the City of Canton as a water tower site. Canton Community Victory Garden East, which opened this April, now gives Laine and a lot of other folks the space they need to grow their own fresh foods and flowers.

The new garden doesn’t belong to Laine, although she and Canton architect Roy Taylor, a fellow gardener, lobbied the city for it, and Laine manages it. They’re leasing the property for the garden, which is the city’s first official community garden, for two years. Taylor started the first one seven years ago, on private property, but all the plots are currently full, and there’s a waiting list for newcomers.

The Garden Sprouts

Where did the seed money for the garden come from? Laine recalls going to The Home Depot with a wish list of items she needed. “When the Home Depot community liaison person heard that we planned to have a children’s teaching garden, she immediately perked up and said, ‘I can get you grant money.’ We were fast-tracked,” Laine says. The Home Depot Foundation gave the garden a Community Impact Grant for $9,000, which Laine used to buy fencing, lumber for the raised beds, tools, dirt, and mulch. The garden also boasts a handsome pavilion and picnic tables, courtesy of Home Depot. Laine plans to build a tool shed next, with a rooftop rain collection system that will feed into barrels below.

When the garden broke ground, fifty Home Depot volunteers in orange aprons turned out to help drill holes, dig trenches, install the fence, and build raised beds and pathways. Check out Home Depot’s video and information about building your own raised bed.

This garden–called “East,” because Laine hopes more plots will spread to the other three directions on the compass– is open to anyone who agrees to its regulations. The land is  parceled out into 34 raised beds, each measuring 4′ X 12′, that rent for $15 a year. You can rent more than one bed at a time (if there’s space available). The fee includes water usage, and it’s a bargain, considering that at least one Atlanta area community garden charges $60 a year per bed. (Laine’s name is on the water bill. She laughs as she admits that’s a little scary. She hopes she estimated the right amount to charge each gardener for water.)

(Need help figuring out which kind of irrigation system your private or shared garden needs? Check out our tips on irrigation systems.)

Digging In

If you’re wondering how the marvelous concept of community gardens first took root–and they are marvelous, for those who lack space or sun or both–you need to look back to 1894, when some 35% of the U.S. population was unemployed.The notion of shared gardening seems to have sprouted when Detroit’s mayor asked the owners of vacant lots to let the their jobless neighbors plant small food gardens on their property. New York, Philadelphia, and other big cities followed Detroit’s lead.

During World War I, Uncle Sam gave community gardens a boost by appealing to Americans to raise fresh food for our soldiers and allies. Gardens were nicknamed “trenches,” and school kids joined programs that eventually evolved into today’s 4-H clubs and Cooperative Extension Services. The idea kept growing throughout the Depression and WWII, when some 20 million “Victory Gardens” popped up in backyards and public parks.

Planting For A Fruitful Harvest

Today, gardeners like Canton resident Tommy Armstrong are also eager to dig in and grow. Tommy hasn’t gardened since he was a kid, but on the hot, humid afternoon that I met him, he was busily weeding his two new rental plots, so he could start planting his green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers. “I’ve never grown Brussels sprouts before,” he says. “I want to try those.”

The garden is off to a great start, and so are the gardeners. This summer Laine plans to social events like picnics and watermelon cuttings, so the renters can get to know each other and start growing friendships, as well as fruits and veggies. Laine budgeted wisely and spent thoughtfully, but now she has used all of the garden’s grant money, except for $1.38. So what does she plan to do with the overage? I ask her if she’s ready to take a break and sit down under a shade tree to enjoy the fruits of her labor, so to speak. She laughs. “Yes, I think I’ll go buy a cold Coca-Cola and sip it in the garden!”

Interested in starting a community garden? Check out these great tips from the American Community Gardening Association.

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