New beginnings and a beautiful day at the garden!
Shmal and I had a wonderful day at the McRorie Community Garden yesterday. Let me tell you how all of this began. A few years ago, I was riding my bike in Gainesville, looking for a good place to get on a long trail called the Hawthorne Trail. The Hawthorne Trail is known by most bikers and hikers here in Gainesville. It goes from town down south across Paynes Prairie to a little town called Hawthorne. The prairie is an amazing place. There are wild horses from the days of the Spanish explorers. You can also see a herd of buffalo. There are huge alligators and all sorts of birds and wildlife.
As I looked for the trailhead, I passed a beautiful community garden. There was a sign that said “Plots available”, so I called the number and I wound up with my own patch in the garden! The next time I dropped by to plant, I met Shmal.
I introduced myself and he said “Nice meeting you, Michael. My name is Sh’mal.” I asked him to repeat his name. He said “Sh’mal”. I looked at him quizzically and said “I’m sorry, what?” He said, “My name’s Bob Ellenberg, but I’m called Shmal. The name’s a combination of the Jewish prayer, the Sh’ma and Allah – it’s a tribute to the fact that I respect the spirituality of both religions. Sh’mal”.
Sh’mal was on his way to Seattle, having lived here in Gainesville for years and years. He wanted to be closer to his grandchild and be with his son, daughter-in-law and grandchild as his grandchild grew up.
Sh’mal said he was waiting for some people to drop by so he could give them his plot. They never showed up so Sh’mal wound up giving his plot to me. That was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted these years to this day.
Since I love photography and am a software developer, I started taking photos, meeting people and started a blog about the garden. I called it “Zoobird” and this is what it looked like after a few months.
Eventually, I converted it to a social network and now it looks like this: “Zoobird – Dangerously Organic!” It’s been around several years while I’ve met so many people in the community and encouraged them to join and write.
So, back to the story at hand. Since it’s the beginning of autumn and we just had a full moon, Sh’mal, who just moved back to Gainesville and I decided to plant our patch yesterday. Now, we share the patch he passed to me years ago!
We stopped by the feed and seed store and picked up some collard and broccoli sprouts and some mesclun mix. Weeds grow here like…weeds! So, there’s always cleaning up to do. We made some beds for the sprouts and seeds. Then we got down to the planting.
Before we knew it, we were done. Success!
We looked around, proud of ourselves, and saw a huge lemongrass plant. Have you ever had lemongrass tea? This is how your little tea bag starts out.
How about rosemary, that tasty herb? Here’s a hearty rosemary plant in our garden. Imagine how good it smells!
The garden is full of flowers. They attract butterflies. Every so often, a crop of huge sunflowers comes up. Ahhhh, so serene!
This is easily my favorite photo of all time. I took it a couple of years ago in the garden. It took about a dozen tries and a lot of stealth to get it. Like it? I love it. These are my treasures. I love everything about the garden: the planting, the harvesting, the people I meet, all the smells and sights, but I especially love the photos that I can savor anywhere I go, even when I’m far from the garden.
Here’s another one I love. See the orange flower and the rosemary bush behind the butterfly?
So, I can’t go on here forever because I saved some daikon radish seeds from years back just as Shmal was leaving and we’re going to get together today and try to sprout them! Here’s one of the original sets of photos I took, years ago when I started community gardening and growing both Zoobird and my patch. I hope this inspires you to get involved or start your own community garden. Please let me know what you think! And, feel free to join Zoobird and have some fun in the meantime. Chow! /Michael