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Good Gardens Make Good Neighbors

December 7, 2012

Last weekend, I finally collected enough leaves to prepare my garden for winter. Unlike my last experience, this one turned out to be quite pleasant and even build a bit of neighborhood rapport.

Although my lawn is lacking in leaves, it has a few, as well as a plethora of orange pine needles. Chris had the smart idea to combine the two into mulch for our blueberry bushes. Because they grow wild in acidic, low fertility soil, we have to manage the soil’s pH. Fortunately, pine needles are quite acidic when they break down, making them a perfect blueberry mulch when combined with ordinary leaves.

So I was out last Friday, struggling to rake up the leaves and clumps of needles dotting our lawn. (Surprisingly, raking is much more difficult with a few leaves than a lot.) As I finished piling them up, I noticed our neighbor across the street raking her lawn as well. She has a very large backyard with a lot of deciduous trees. I had previously considered sneaking onto her property to collect her leaves, but thought gathering them from the graveyard was less dodgy. However, the time was perfect to offer my services in a non-sketchy manner.

My rake in hand, I walked across the street and asked, “Would you like some help?” She shrugged and replied, “Only if you want more exercise.” She’s an older woman and I suspect that she thought I was pitying her. She wasn’t going to turn down the help, but she was also perfectly capable of doing it herself. Undeterred, I smiled and said, “Sure. I also use leaves to mulch my garden, so I would love if I could take some of yours.” Realizing it as a mutually beneficial situation, she warmed up and welcomed my assistance.

Together, we spent about 45 minutes raking her yard. I finally got her name – Anita – and she learned mine as well. She asked about my gardening technique and I explained the basic concepts behind lasagna gardening. In turn, she told me about growing geraniums and tomatoes. While she had used MiracleGro in the past, one of her environmentally-concerned relatives asked her not to do it this year. So she just used compost instead. Much to her surprise, the compost worked even better than the MiracleGro. Because she was just starting down this road, I was glad to see that she had a good experience with organic methods. Heck, I wish my tomatoes did as well as hers seemed to!

We wrapped up the raking, with piles of leaves in the gutter and all over her yard. Anita commented that it took much less time than she anticipated and thanked me for my help. It was getting chilly, so she went inside while I shuffled back and forth between her yard and mine with my wheelbarrow. As I was doing so, a young man walking on the sidewalk said, “That’s no joke. A lot of exercise raking those leaves.” To which I replied, “Yep.” Despite the out-of-the-blueness of his comment, it was rather nice hearing someone affirm the hard work I had done that day.

So now there are several piles of leaves in my yard, just waiting for me to layer them. All it took was a little goodwill and some elbow grease. And on top of it all, I got to learn a little more about a neighbor.

How has gardening helped you build community?

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