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BY LUCY HARDIMAN Portland, Oregon, USDA Zone 8

Paul’s Gift

Our gardening lives take twists and turns; we’re sometimes led in circles. My latest detour–a bittersweet return to a simpler time–was an unexpected bequest from a dear friend and neighbor, Paul, whose life was cut short by AIDS.

My most vivid childhood recollections take place in the 1950s, when my family engaged in sowing, harvesting, canning, and freezing the abundant riches provided by our suburban vegetable garden. As an adult, my own early gardens were replicas of that model, attempts to recapture the innocence and security I knew before divorce split our family asunder. But as my self-worth as a gardener flourished, it became time to move forward–not eschewing the wisdom of gardens past, but exploring a new palette of plants, in an ongoing education. My desire to experiment with ornamentals and explore new design options meant the end of our home vegetable garden.

I had no premonition that welcoming Paul into the fabric of our extended neighborhood family would lead me back to my gardening roots. He quickly found a permanent place in our hearts and lives. Although he had been diagnosed with AIDS shortly before he moved into our four-plex, he was still active–playing his beloved baseball, going to school, and debating political and social issues with friends. He loved our garden but lamented that we had no place to grow veggies and herbs, other than in containers. So, he applied for a plot in the local community garden, one that would be shared by all of us.

When Paul received word that there was a space opening up for us, his excitement was tempered by an onslaught of complications wrought by his disease. He died just two weeks later, days before the dawning of the new year. As we sadly and lovingly packed away Paul’s worldly goods, a friend and fellow resident of the four-plex found the paperwork for the community garden. The rest is history. Our plot occupies the sunny northeast corner of the community garden. Neglected for several years, it was overrun with undesirable plants and detritus. We hauled out a pickup-load of weeds and garden debris, brought in yards of manure and compost, fashioned raised beds, and started planting cool-weather crops–knowing all the while that Paul was watching us transform the barren plot into the garden he envisioned.

And in it, I see the garden of my childhood–straight soldierly rows of greens, peas, beans, carrots, tomatoes, and peppers offset by raised mounds of squash and cucumbers. Paul’s joy and zest for life led me back to my gardening roots. I admit to neglecting the garden at home, opting instead to spend dawn and dusk puttering in our community plot. Walking to and fro, I commune with Paul, thanking him for blessing us with his presence and the gift of the garden. H

RECOMMENDED READING

Gardeners interested in gardening sustainably and reducing water consumption in this age of seasonal drought and changing weather patterns will want to read Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden: Drought-resistant planting through the year (Viking Studio, 2000). In it, Chatto chronicles the development of her gravel garden, discussing the planning process, soil preparation and mulching, plant selection and placement, and maintenance.

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