I grew up in a greenhouse. As a child I dirtied my hands in the big bin of potting soil, started cuttings, learned which plants liked a lot of water, which plants just liked a sip, made bonsais, propagated, and learned to airfoil among many other things. The big greenhouse, its slightly cracked door always beckoning, would welcome you with dense warmth, and a wondrous smell of humus, and the gentle roar of the big fans upon the threshold. I would play between the rows of orchids, succulents and bromeliads till the sweat poured, then cool off in front of one of the huge fans.
My father and grandfather owned and operated a nursery for more than 50 years. Plants were always around. A particularly pretty flower in the window sill, a good climbing tree in the back yard, a stunning variegated green friend just outside the window, vines twisted into hedges, naval oranges picked from the backyard, a child-sized vegetable patch – I didn’t know it had permeated so thoroughly until long after I had moved from home, Simon’s Nursery had closed its doors, and I had a house and yard of my own.
After my first few walks, down the roads, sidewalks and in the quiet back alleys three years ago, I realized I had definitely moved to the greener part of Huntsville. And that made me absolutely thrilled! I was exactly where i wanted to be. So many beautiful yards and so many back yard, and even front yard gardens – shrubs, flowers, hanging baskets, vines, fruit trees, vegetables. Sure – I had kept a modest box garden on the south end of town for 8 years – but I was one of two houses on the whole street that had a garden. It seemed, finally, when Spring started knocking I’d be able to meet others who were just as excited about gardening as I was – and well… actually neighborly.
I borrowed a small tractor from a good friend, plowed up an 8’x30’ section of my backyard and got to work on my garden space. My Dad drew up a landscape plan for the house, which we dug and planted. Along and along, as I unpacked, and worked on my green space – I met my neighbors up and down my block, and then others from blocks over. I always made it a point to say hello to folks if they were outside, or if they were walking by, because well, thats the type of neighborhood Five Points is, and its part of why I love living there.
The second year of my garden, my folks came up for a visit in the middle of summer. At sunset I grabbed three baskets and harvested eggplants, onions, leeks, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers with my Mom’s help and handed them all to my Dad on the patio. He looked back at the garden, the veggies in his hands and then up at me and said “Nano (ie. his father) would be so proud of you. Of all the things grown, he was most impressed by growing food. He would love your garden.” I never knew that; and as i fell into the sheer depth of those kind words, it all just made me want to grow more and share more. So I shared my harvest with friends, with coworkers, with my neighbors, with family. I cooked, baked, froze, canned and pickled it all! By the time the summer was over, my friends and neighbors were running the opposite direction of me because I was always coming at them with baskets of fresh veggies.
An idea popped into my head then and there. What if I could organize some sort of local veggie swap in the middle of the summer? Or wait, better yet… What if I could organize a swap at the beginning of Spring for folks to plant gardens, or for people who never have but want to, or just for plants, or ideas, maybe just seeds, or herb gardens, or container gardens. There were so many directions it could go. And more questions to be asked. I nested on the idea for a year, grew an even larger garden, chased my friends with baskets of vegetables, and finally posted a give away for my bumper crop of eggplants on NextDoor.com. They were all gone within four hours. So obviously some people liked fresh veggies just as much as I did. With that courage, I proposed a Five Points Garden Exchange last fall. From the handful of folks that appeared and the couple meetings we had – I gained some ideas (like historic plant swapping) and some more green friends. I decided to join the Northeast Huntsville Civic Association as their Membership chair and they added more ideas and encouragement to the original idea. It was finally go time.
Or should I say green time? The Garden Gathering is for anyone who loves things green and leafy, for anyone who grows a vegetable garden, for anyone who likes flowers, has a plant with a story, prunes shrubbery. The morning of April 8th is for kids who want to grow a pizza garden, for folks who like to cook with fresh herbs, for container gardeners, for people with fruit trees, for neighbors with more green space than house, for anyone even remotely curious about plants. From Nine to Noon at the Optimist Park Pavilion anyone can trade and swap and exchange seeds, plants, flowers, bulbs, herbs, seedlings, knowledge and ideas, and very basically, be neighborly. After all, we call Huntsville, Alabama home. At the very heart of it – The Garden Gathering is for everyone – people who grew up in a greenhouse, and for those who have never even gotten their hands dirty, but wish to.