Gifts from Juan
One of my favorite aspects of belonging to a community garden is that is isn't just all about growing vegetables; it's about growing and cultivating connections with people, too. If Michael and I had a place of our own, we'd be able to create a garden -- free of certain rules and regulations -- but we know it wouldn't be the same. We would miss the people who make the garden the community that it is. We would miss the informal chats over the fence, the gardening tips freely given, and the sharing of extra seedlings, cuttings, and freshly picked vegetables. We would miss the connections with gardeners who've come from all parts of the world -- Portugal, Greece, and China -- to meet in this urban oasis and share something in common. We enjoy all the different personalities and styles of doing things; we learn a lot. And for these reasons, it's truly the people who enrich our gardening experience in so many ways.
One very special person at our garden is Juan. He's an Argentinean-Italian man, maybe in his late 50's or so, who's been gardening almost all of his life. He has one of the best, most meticulously cared for plots in the entire community garden. He grows vegetables and herbs that leave the rest of us sighing with envy and admiration. When everyone else is struggling with a particular vegetable, Juan is sure to have a bumper crop.
So the quirky thing about Juan is that, even though he has the most amazing vegetable garden, he does not cook. Not one bit, apparently. He works at a hotel where he claims to get plenty to eat. So we think he just enjoys the challenge of growing the very best vegetables -- and then giving them away. His joy comes in the sharing and giving to others.
Last Saturday, I saw Juan and he asked me, "How are your beans coming along? And your onions? Do you have onions?"
"Well, my beans are just getting blossoms now and, no, I don't have any onions" I replied. And before I could blink, he gave me a handful beans and a beautiful Vidalia onion, plus peppers and a bunch of fragrant Greek oregano.
So I always wonder what we can give back to Juan. We offer things from our garden but he almost always declines, saying he's not a cook. The one thing he did accept without hesitation, however, was a bulb of German garlic we grew last year. He saved it and planted it in his garden last fall. A few weeks ago, he stopped by to tell us he had a wonderful garlic harvest.
These are the gifts shared among gardening neighbors... and a reminder of how it's the people who make this garden the special place that it truly is.