My connection to anything outside of my own condo in our 6-unit building has been pretty limited, at best.
The process for selecting a new color for our three-story front stairwell? It really didn't matter to me, as I’ve never spent oodles of the time hanging out in the stairwell. The decision on exterior lights? Whatever, really. Keep it in budget and let's make sure someone knows how to change the bulbs. Solar panels on the roof? If the rest of the building is behind it, I see no reason to swim upstream. Let's make good use of the sun.
And so it was done.
But at least a year (and possibly two) after our two building gardeners moved out of the condo, our front yard had become the Clampett property of our block. While we didn't actually have a bathtub sitting out front with some lame-ass marigolds growing out of it, we were pretty close. Our yews were overgrown. Our entrance way urns were not only unplanted, but housed a collection of cigarette butts from a variety of contractors that would stand outside for their smoke breaks. Some of the bushy things no longer retained their bushy properties: they had died and left stubby, branchy corpses: a symbol of the building's collective failure to maintain life outside of our own private spaces.
With little motivation other than trying to avoid our surrounding neighbor's sneers as they'd judge each and every one of us based on the sad condition of our front lawn, I enlisted the help of a gardening consultant who came in and told us how to right our wrongs. I rallied the building to put in a few hours on one scorching hot day in late-June and we brought our yard back from the dead while resurrecting the respect of our angered neighbors.
When I first headed up this effort, I envisioned a giant time-suck that would yield nothing but frustration: how wrong I was!
Instead, I found a connection. In fact, I found a bunch of 'em.
For starters, lawn and garden work has become a family affair. I'm not outside digging in the dirt by myself. Husband and kids are out there with me -- Husband is typically doing the heavy lifting (or digging) and the kids are old enough to push the old-school mower or rake and blow grass clippings into a pile. It's a good way to spend a few hours together outside. We're all invested in it.
In getting the building into our efforts, we've connected with them, as well. We've got the Herb Lady who has taken ownership of our herb garden in the back. And we have the Lettuce People who claim a space for arugula, kale and an oak leaf type of lettuce (our backyard lacks sun, so lettuce is about all we can grow!). There is nothing more satisfying than cutting off a handful of fresh lettuce leaves from the garden for a quick salad with dinner. And the mint from the herb garden has made a mojito-aficionado out of me. When people aren't eating as much as we've grown, e-mails circulate throughout the building encouraging everyone to use more rosemary or have more salads! That's nice, right?
Since the neighbors aren't shooting poison darts at us anymore, we've connected with them by taking pride in our verdant green space. On occasion, we'll ask a passing neighbor a garden-related question: I think this puts them at ease that we'll never backslide into the dead weeds and burned grass days. Plus, I learn a whole bunch of stuff that I would have had to Google otherwise!
The connection I really never expected was one with the earth. I had never understood the concept of gardening as being relaxing. But it is! It really, really is! While I always have a plan of what needs to get accomplished when I go outside, I never really get overwhelmed with the plan. I get lost in the digging and planting. Or ripping out weeds. I can't say it's pure presence 100% of the time, but I get into that zone more frequently in the yard than I do anywhere else. And when the major work is accomplished at the onset of Summer, I'll admit to being a little bummed: I really love the process.
I love the process so much that I almost feel bad when people in the building thank me for organizing/leading the efforts. I keep telling them: I really love this -- it doesn't feel like work. But they keep thanking me, regardless. It's as silly as someone thanking me for drinking a glass of wine!
The process is underway for the season. My family and I spent a delightful 2 or 3 hours on Mother's Day in both the front and back yards getting ready for the planting and mulching that will happen on Memorial Day weekend. I spent a relaxing 30-minutes wandering the aisles of the Home Depot Garden Center today to price out my purchases and contemplate what I'm planting in the urns out front. Hold on to your gardening clogs: I'm thinking of using Creeping Jenny instead of Vinca Vines this year. Wild, right?
The absolute best part of this process is that once we're done, we grab a lawn chair, slip off our shoes (assuming we were wearing any to begin with), make a mojito and enjoy the results of our efforts in our outside sacred space. For me, that means wiggling my toes through the grass. And nothing is easier than connecting with neighbors when there is a pitcher of mojitos on the patio table!
Keep calm and garden on, friends!