The Trash Picker

Where ever I have lived, I have planted the required Memorial Day geraniums, summer marigolds, and fall mums.  These are easy plants.  For one brief summer in Portland, Maine, I had a little four-foot square garden, but I didn’t know what I was doing.  I just planted dill, mint, and snapdragon.  My elderly neighbors grew marigolds from saved seeds; I thought they were foolish, what with marigolds being so inexpensive.

In 1999, I moved to my chicken coop-sized condo in Hampton, New Hampshire.  When most people think of Hampton, they think of the Hampton Beach Casino or “the strip” that runs along Route 1A.  Hampton is a “summer tourist destination.”  I am a few miles north of the casino, on “North Beach.”  North Beach is a year-round surfing destination, but I don’t surf.

As was my habit, I put a few marigolds on my deck; I didn’t have much spare time because I was commuting to Waltham, Massachusetts, down Route 128.  If you’ve never had to drive Route 128 on a regular basis, count your lucky stars.  It sounded exciting at first, but it wore me down and I didn’t have much time to do anything besides splash a little water on my marigolds.  After 18 months of commuting, I had had enough and got a job here in New Hampshire.

With all my newly found free time, I would ride my bicycle on the back roads through Hampton, North Hampton, and Rye.  I was fascinated by all the things people in this area threw out.  No one from home would ever throw anything out until it had done its job and also done a little moonlighting.  I kid you not; we’ve been sitting on the same lawn chairs at my parent’s house since I was born.  Here on the Seacoast, people threw out lots of brand new things, like planters, garden tools, complete sets of perfectly good dishes, and dictionaries.  It broke my heart; I tried to rescue as much good stuff as I could, especially the tools and planters.

Each time I found a new planter, I would plant something in it although I still didn’t really know what I was doing.  Gardening is like anything else; practice makes perfect.   I started some morning glories and some moon flowers from seed and by mid-June, my Coop deck was blooming with climbing morning glories at sunrise and fragrant moon flowers at night, along with marigolds, potted sea grass, and other pretty flowers.

I was having fun.

Unfortunately, my morning glories started climbing onto the deck above mine and the Coop commissars asked me to remove them within 14 days.  I was devastated and spent the next 10 days away from the Coop, forlornly pedaling along the ocean, pining away for a place to plant some flowers.

One Sunday morning, I was riding down Barbour Road in Hampton and my eye caught sight of an old barn.  Behind the barn and surrounded by a chain link fence was either a dump or a baseball diamond.  In front of the barn was a sign that read “Hampton Victory Garden – Gardeners Only.”

I kept riding but I was curious.  I circled back and decided to explore whatever was behind the chain link fence.  The gate was locked, but walking the perimeter I counted 40 garden plots.  Some plots were all vegetables; some were all flowers.  Some were a combination of both.  All of these 40 plots were heaven on earth to me.

Telling myself that I was a gardener and a Hampton taxpayer; I purposefully rode home and wrote “Hampton Victory Garden” in my planner for Monday.

A few calls to the town office put me in touch with the community garden organizer, Bonnie.  She said I was in luck; there was an available garden, just a bit overgrown.  We agreed to meet at the garden on June 23, 2001.

Notions of neat rows of vegetables were quickly dashed when Bonnie showed me the 14 by 24 foot plot, garden #31.  It was completely overgrown with grass and weeds, although one sunflower was growing in the corner.  It seemed like a good omen.  I paid my $20, and left.  I had places to go that morning but I would be back.

I got home at Noon and changed into a vintage 50’s sundress and a pink garden hat; I was all “Sentimental Journey” gardening glamour.  Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing.  I had the presence of mind to take along some bug spray, a few garden tools I had found trash picking, some water and some gloves.  I stashed a pad of paper in my bag too, since nothing could be more interesting than keeping a garden journal.  After all, I was a gardener and a bit of a writer.

I am sure whoever saw me on that summer day got a little bit of a chuckle, but I toiled away from Noon until 4:00 p.m. and cleared out a 4 foot area around the “good omen” sunflower.  I saw a snake and screamed (what else do you do when you’re wearing a pink straw hat?) but was reassured by a garden neighbor that it was merely a garter snake.

I could go on and on about that first summer at the Hampton Victory Garden; I did keep a lengthy journal and shared it by weekly snail mail with my family and friends.  On August 2, 2001 I wrote:

“My garden is truly on auto-pilot now and sometimes when I’m on my way home I think to myself ‘there is nothing to say about the garden today.  What is there to write?’  Yet, there are so many stories to tell; many of them only indirectly related to the Hampton Victory Garden.  Some possible stories are ‘The Readers of Cusack Road’ and ‘Beach Dogs I Have Known.’  Maybe I’ll just write about some of these things.  Life in Hampton is interesting, well worth preserving on paper.”

My primitive blog.

I decided to return to the garden in 2002 and I have kept coming back every year since.  I have tried different things in my garden spot, mostly flowers in the beginning.  In 2007, I created a sunflower maze in an empty garden and I converted a particle board bookcase my friend Jaxon gave me into a raised bed.

That same year, the current garden organizer, Cindy, asked me if I would like to take her place and I tentatively said yes.  She was very patient and we were co-organizers in 2008.  In 2009, Cindy cut me loose and let me handle all the coordinating.  2012 will be my fourth year as “Volunteer Coordinator” at the Hampton Victory Garden.

I am still having fun.

Has it always been fun?  Of course not.  We have 40 plots, approximately 60 gardeners with different styles and personalities, running water, bills, and occasional problems.  Things disappear and feelings get hurt.  At the end of the day, it all works out.  Gardeners come and go; most stay.  Rain barrels get fixed, garden sign roofs get replaced and stained, and we learn things from each other.  This year, we got a new picnic table.  And it’s only May 8!

I’ve changed a bit in my gardening style and my farming dreams have outgrown my 14 x 24 foot plot.  I still don’t always know what I’m doing, but I can’t help but think I would never have gotten this far if I hadn’t started picking trash for planters and gardening tools on solitary Saturday mornings.

Tomorrow:  My Lisbon Falls Surpise (!) Garden…no trash allowed.  I’ll meet you there.

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1 Response to The Trash Picker

  1. A says:

    I love this sentence: No one from home would ever throw anything out until it had done its job and also done a little moonlighting.

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