By Lauren Glaze, Community Fellow
My time at Bessie Weller Elementary has enabled me to explore many different ways of gardening and how to put elements together to create a space that feels peaceful and inviting so that groups can come and connect to each other and the plants around them. In my research and experience, I have gathered many points of inspiration that I want to share here. I hope that others can gain something from my musings as well.
Gathering Space to cultivate community
A solid gathering space is the cornerstone of any garden. This offers a place for people to come together and appreciate the plants, make plans for the garden, and connect with each other. When inviting community members into your garden, well-designed seating facilitates great conversation and the creation of new ideas. Most importantly, it invites us to simply appreciate the beauty of the ecosystem you are caring for, which creates joy.
A big part of gardening is being mindful of the other-than-human members of our garden ecosystem. Planting native pollinator plants benefit the air and soil and offer habitat to declining native pollinator populations, which in turn, helps our vegetables thrive. Some of these plants offer medicinal qualities to humans as well. Native plantings also typically require fewer inputs - such as water and fertilizer - from the gardener. Plus, the colorful flowers are extremely beautiful and there is nothing more delightful than seeing a monarch caterpillar or hummingbird enjoying the habitat you cultivated.
Plants at different heights: growing on trellises and other structures to create magical little nooks and crannies.
Garden structures and plants at different heights throughout the garden create visual interest, encouraging visitors to take their time exploring the space. This contributes to a sense of wonder and excitement as one walks under hanging plants, around bushy plants, and alongside swirling structures. Little hiding places enclosed in plants allow people to find a comfortable spot to find a sense of relaxation and safety.
Part of the joy of gardening can be found in incorporating elements from folklore and other whimsical touches in the garden. This can encourage creativity and remind us of the powers beyond our understanding at work in the garden. It can also help us find joy and humor in the garden experience. For example, we have some resident gnomes in the Bessie Weller school garden. They guard the treasures in our soil: the networks of hyphae, nutrient-rich soil, and organisms that help the ecosystem function smoothly. They move through the ground as effortlessly as humans move through air. Unfortunately, they turn to stone when they are exposed to the sun, and there is evidence of this in various sections of the garden.
An intentional set of materials that help you process what you have grown into new forms
Much of the fun in gardening can be found in transforming what you have grown into various forms to incorporate into your life for improved health. Materials like herb drying racks and fermentation kits encourage us to think of fun experiments to try in the garden.
There are many other tips and tricks for creating a beautiful garden such as planting flowers that bloom at different times, creating a good crop rotation plan, and constructing different elements of texture and color, but these are the elements that have brought me the most joy throughout my learning process. Ultimately, gardening is about cultivating connection on multiple levels: connection with the self, connection with the community, and connection with the vast network of organisms that can be easy to take for granted even though they are the very beings that make our lives possible.