In an arid, budget-poor region with long, cold winters like mine, the downtown improvements tend to favor hardscape and sculptures rather than plants and gardens. We have city parks and school playgrounds to provide some greenery, but even those are suffering in a time of decreasing tax revenues and reduced park staff. Imagine my surprise during our recent visit to San Diego when I encountered a city awash in color and growth.
|A lemon tree... in the city!|
I felt immersed in nature while walking the concrete sidewalks. It was insidiousness in nature. It was so natural that at first it wasn't noticeable. After days of obliviously enjoying my surroundings, I was startled by a lemon tree growing out of a large pot plopped next to a traffic sign. Lemon trees are extinct in my part of the world and though my uncle in California has one in his back yard, I never imagined them as part of city flora. But there it was, burdened by ripening fruit overhanging a parked car, and ignored by passersby intent on reaching their destinations.
It seemed every downtown corner had a plot of flowers or vibrant succulents, in the ground or in a pot. Bougainvilleas lined sidewalks and fences. Unknown trees of varying size, shape, and texture were everywhere. The entire city was a park to be enjoyed. Above all, it appeared the designers and maintainers deeply cared about their creations and strove to make them burst with excitement and joy. It was difficult to identify the owner of any one offering and that implied the entire community was the designer, maintainer, and owner.
That is a concept that excites and encourages me as a gardener. Imagine living in a community where everyone takes part in the process of creating their environment. Where color and beauty and life surrounding you is a normal and expected part of your day. A community that is vibrant and colorful in action and attitude because of the plants that infuse life into the atmosphere.
Sure San Diego has the perfect climate for growing plants year-round. It's easy to have flowers and bushes and trees where almost anything can grow and it doesn't take much to produce a green thumb, but I've been to other places with similar climates that didn't offer the same vitality. I suspect the local tourist bureau is behind much of the activity, but that doesn't remotely lessen the impact of the scenery.
As a Master Gardener I've helped hundreds of people through classes, seminars, workshops, and one-on-one counseling. Yet we are still a community of a few individuals with an interest in gardening rather than one where the entirety is immersed in it. It would be nice if we could instill a similar sense of botanical ownership and belonging to the whole. I don't know how to make that happen, but I suspect it is with one plot and one pot at a time. Seeing the life in San Diego, I am motivated to play a greater role in increasing and improving life and vitality in my own community.
The public aspect of my gardens will be expanded. I'll add more color and variety for others to enjoy. Sharing my gardens with others is now more important. Sharing advice and plants with my neighbors will help them help themselves. Gardening is a "pay it forward" activity. By helping others, it allows them to help others still. If we all act, before long it will become second nature and then we'll be surrounded by nature every second. What are you doing or what can you do to improve your community with gardening?