Re: SF Chronicle: Worldly Lessons Taught in Community Garden
- Subject: Re: [cg] SF Chronicle: Worldly Lessons Taught in Community Garden
- From: "Mike McGrath" MikeMcG@PTD.net
- Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2006 17:41:02 -0500
Say hello to the actual Mr. Hershey, boys and girls....
(I sent him a message about nematodes, marigolds and our beloved Adam
Honigman. Or as Karnak the Magnificent would have put it: "A pest, a mess
and a posie" [not in that order, of course...])
Mike: Thanks for the message! I'm a big fan of your writing in GreenPrints
-- I have a piece in the current issue too.
Where's the community gardeners email list? I'd like to sign up.
No, my nematodes aren't in San Francisco. I live in Colorado. And I don't
really know if they're a problem, both because I overwhelmed them with
marigolds and because I tend to exaggerate in my columns for (I hope)
But I would like to hear your marigold usage tips.
----- Original Message -----
To: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; <email@example.com>
Sent: Monday, March 27, 2006 12:53 PM
Subject: [cg] SF Chronicle: Worldly Lessons Taught in Community Garden
I love this San Francisco Chronicle piece by John Hershey, comparing CIA
Director Porter Goss, a backyard gardener's outlook on the world with
that of community gardeners. John Hershey is a community gardener.
Hell's Kitchen, NYC
Worldly lessons taught in community garden
- John Hershey, Special to The Chronicle
Saturday, March 25, 2006
In a recent interview with Time magazine, CIA Director Porter Goss was
asked a very important question. After dispensing with topics like
catching Osama bin Laden and dealing with the insurgency in Iraq, the
reporter got down to business: "You're into organic gardening. How did
Goss replied that gardening is relaxing and rewarding for him. He even
composts. But he complained that animals always steal his crops.
I find it reassuring that our top intelligence official seeks solace in
the garden -- although it makes me a little nervous that the man
responsible for eradicating terrorist cells in our country can't keep
squirrels out of his garden.
I was also surprised. I tend to think of powerful people spending their
leisure time hunting rather than gardening. I can readily imagine Type A
go-getters out on a big-game hunt. But somehow it's hard to picture
Theodore Roosevelt misting orchids or Ernest Hemingway weeding around his
Perhaps this is an unfair stereotype. After all, hunting and gardening are
popular for the same basic reason: They take us back to the primeval days
when people lived in nature and had to provide for themselves. It was a
simpler yet rougher time, without the complexities or soft comforts of
modern life. Hunting and gardening make us feel truly alive by appealing
to these primitive instincts in ways that some other hobbies, like
collecting refrigerator magnets, may not.
But I wonder why some people gravitate to gardening, while hunting appeals
to other personality types. For example, I prefer gardening. Time spent in
the garden is fun and serene, and there are relatively few fatal gardening
accidents. It seems to suit my character. I have nothing against hunting
for food, but let's face it: Hunting can be rather adversarial. The hunter
and the deer are not out there seeking to resolve their differences
amicably. It's a bit of a zero-sum game, when you think about it. Does
this mean the aggressive, driven people who become leaders in their field
are more likely to be hunter-gatherers than settle down and cultivate the
land? If so, does hunting reinforce confrontational attitudes that carry
over into our leaders' jobs, making them more inclined to deal with a
crisis by reaching for their metaphorical .30-06?
Of course, there's a time and place for strong action. But I think
gardening, especially community gardening, could teach our leaders
important lessons about foreign policy too.
Outsiders, perhaps laboring under some stereotypes of their own, may think
of a community garden as an urban idyll of perfect harmony. But those of
us who garden there know that the community garden is a microcosm of the
world. We each have our own territory, with footpaths forming borders with
our neighbors. And we have to deal with conflicts and threats just as
world leaders do.
For example, has your community garden space ever been invaded by an
aggressive pumpkin vine? When a plot's territorial integrity is
threatened, the gardeners don't respond unilaterally with clippers. We use
diplomacy to discourage expansionism without resorting to force.
You can't always blame the gardener when plants attack. Last season, I
planted a special type of marigold on the perimeter of my plot because I
had heard that they would deter nematodes from attacking the roots of my
tomato plants. This natural pest-control technique was effective, in a
sense. My tomato plants survived, although they didn't get very big or
produce many tomatoes. They were crowded out and shaded by the marigolds!
Each little seedling grew into a big clump of dense foliage with hundreds
of orange blooms. These yard-high shrubs encroached the pathways,
blockading several nearby plots. I tried to be a good citizen by trimming
the bushes back, but that just seemed to encourage more growth. This year,
I'm looking for some special type of nematode to deter my marigolds.
The point is, we all try to get along in the garden. But as in the
community of nations, conflicts can occur. Perhaps we will discover a
rogue nonorganic gardener in our midst who is stockpiling chemical
fertilizers or even trying to develop pesticides of mass destruction. If
so, we'll build alliances to uphold our rules and handle the problem.
Like the countries of the world, we community gardeners must learn to
share scarce resources. We share the water and try not to drag the hose
over our neighbors' spinach plants. We don't take more than our fair share
of compost from the pile. And we happily share the extra food we grow.
OK, that's a bad example. Zucchini is not a scarce resource. It's more
like a common enemy.
But community gardeners learn to work together to deal with threats to our
collective security. Whether it's a zucchini infestation, an attack by
invasive weeds or the occasional nighttime theft of broccoli or tomatoes
by mean yet health-conscious neighborhood toughs, we know we are all in
this together. That's an experience that might benefit the people who run
Would the world be a safer place if our leaders were community gardeners?
I don't know. But I do know one thing: I'd rather garden with Porter Goss
than hunt with Dick Cheney.
E-mail freelance writer (and community gardener) John Hershey at
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