The Saratoga Community Garden

Under an overcast November sky, the Saratoga Community Garden lies dormant to the eyes of those passing by. Tucked between Curtis and Villard Avenue, the remains of a colorful summer have seemingly died down. An inviting path of bark chips winds up to the heart of the garden which is almost obscured by fig and apple trees. Drops of dew cover the grass and blackberry vines cling to a small wooden canopy. It looks almost deserted, watering cans filled to the brim with rainwater, garden boxes filled with weeds, and leaves floating in the bird bath’s murky water. You could say that this little community is dead, but we who live near it definitely don’t think so.

For as long as I can remember, the Saratoga alley was always a rough and dusty mountain of accumulated dirt and litter. It was an obstacle on the way to a fun afternoon at Arbor Lodge Park, a barrier between me and my elementary school, and a casual mudslide on wet spring days. When asked about the lot, Arbor Lodge resident Hiana Legas says “That area was like an unorganized forest. There were bushes everywhere, mud, stinky brown puddles; it was just an unhappy area. No close neighbors cared about it and we started calling it the stinky mountain because of that.”If it weren’t for the fact that the alley was a perfect shortcut to Chief Joseph and the park, I probably wouldn’t have ever set my eyes on it, let alone take the time to walk through its trash. It wasn’t until I was 10 years old that the giant dirt pile underwent a big change, and if it hadn’t been in a neighborhood like ours, the alley would probably still be the same.

I first noticed the change when I was on my way to Arbor Lodge for the first time after a long winter. I hadn’t taken the shortcut for a while and as I took my usual route I saw backs bent over the ground. People had rakes and shovels and were mixing the dirt with new soil. I was pretty shocked that they had actually made progress, I mean, the alley used to look terrible. It quickly became a habit of mine to stop by on sunny days with my mom and watch the progress. Soon enough, a trail was made, saplings were planted and garden boxes were built. Some of my neighbors even made sculptures out of recycled materials and scattered them around the garden. Everyone in the community joined together to supply tools and materials, make a layout, and make sure that the garden was a place where everyone in the neighborhood felt welcome.

That summer, the garden was complete. There were vibrant arrays of peppers and beans, bushes filled with raspberries, and large varieties of squash. The dull alley had become the brightest spot in the neighborhood, and you couldn’t help but feel at home surrounded by the members of your community who loved this land as much as you did. Parents brought their children here as an opportunity to bond with them and I was able to talk to neighbors that I never knew I had. It wasn’t just a place to plant seeds, but a place to grow a relationship with the people in our community.

Now, the garden is calmly waiting for a time to bloom, but when that time comes, it’ll be nothing like the serene ghost town it seems to have become. Hopefully this spring and summer more people get involved in the Saratoga Community Garden and make it an even more diverse and inviting place. This small garden has greatly impacted our community and gave us a sense of unity that we didn’t have before, and I am so glad that I was able to be a part of it. So get more involved in your community, talk to your neighbors and start something new because even the smallest idea can make the biggest impact.

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