written by kyle roderick
Anyone who grows or admires flowers, vegetables or houseplants has enjoyed the sensual pleasures that plants can provide. Gardens are also great healers and heart openers in that they engage the nurturing, life-loving soul in each of us. Oregon-based gardener Dan Barker has channeled his green wisdom and built over 1400 backyard gardens for elderly, disabled and low-income people in Portland, Oregon alone. As the founder of the non-profit The Home Gardening Project Foundation (http://home.teleport.com/~hgpf/) Barker has seeded a garden-building movement that has inspired about 30 other backyard garden projects in cities such as Phoenix, Arizona, Racine, Wisconsin, Austin, Texas, and Detroit, Michigan.
As a self-described “home and garden revolutionary,” Barker says his goal “is to help people make backyard gardens a fixture in every neighborhood in every city in the United States. Gardens help renew any area, but inner-city neighborhoods with low-income or disabled residents benefit the most from backyard gardens,” he says.
Gardens can even be custom-built so that people in wheelchairs can easily harvest their vegetables, Barker notes. “These are easy-care gardens that never need tilling; maintenance is one hour a week, including harvesting.” Barker’s program ensures that the garden builder and assistant show up with wood for the seed beds, seeds, starts, manure and fertilizer. They return to monitor the gardens later in the season.
Barker started the Home Gardening Project with a $5,000.00 grant from HUD in 1984. During the 1984 – 1996 period when The Project was blooming throughout Portland, “it was the most effective civic program in operation,” Barker reports. “We had a 95 per cent success rate our first year in operation.”
Although The Project concentrates on inner city areas, any yard can benefit from a vegetable garden, Barker says. “Planting a backyard garden is one of the healthiest things you can do to improve your food source, your quality of life and your connection to nature.” Growing vegetables is especially enlightening and fun for children, Barker says, “because they start to identify with their plants and understand that these living creatures depend on them for protection. They grow to love their plants and they love grazing in the garden for snacks and meals.”
The Home Gardening Project Foundation derives its funding from charitable trusts, foundations and individual donations. While seed corporations such as Lilly/Miller (who’ve donated about $75,000 worth of seeds over the years) and Seeds of Change supply seeds, Barker is currently focused on raising $335,000 to help finance expansion of the Home Gardening Project Foundation and to fund over a dozen new projects around the country.
“Getting funding is tough because many foundation charters prohibit sending money outside their county or state,” says Barker. While the Home Gardening Project received the second annual Garden Grow award (the first went to Robert Rodale) and won the “Best Social Invention Award” from the Institute for Social Inventions in London, “we are always looking for individual donations, as well as seeds and gardening equipment from corporations,” says Barker.
creating your first garden
“The key to beginning an at-home garden is deciding what you most like to eat and look at, and then planting it,” says landscape designer Philip Castiglia, founder of Terra Form, a landscape design firm in Sun Valley, California. Terra Form specializes in garden landscapes which are decorative, edible and biologically diverse. (Ponds, waterfalls and fountains also frequently figure in Terra Form projects.)
“Plant things in your garden that make it fun for you to grow and harvest,” Castiglia says. Plant favorite herbs you can clip for salad, vegetables you love, fruits you can pick, and flowers which bear the colors and scents which you especially like. This fall, plant bulbs such as tulips and gladioli that will color your garden in spring. Depending on the climate you live in, you may be able to grow winter-hardy root vegetables such as potatoes, beets or turnips, Castiglia notes.
If you live in a cold climate, he continues, you can easily garden indoors. For example, on a sunny windowsill or table top, grow herbs in containers such as rosemary and thyme, which you can use in soups, stews and potato dishes. “Other plants that grow well indoors are mint and lemon balm, which you can dry out and use for tea,” Castiglia says.
You can even grow herbs and flowers in your bathroom in winter, he says. “Put a pot of mint on your bathroom shelf or bring in some freesia or narcissus. Humidity is great for orchids, too.”
Easy and fun indoor gardening projects for kids include growing nasturtiums, whose edible orange, yellow or red flowers enliven salads with delicious colors. Or, have the kids grow fragrant hyacinth or lily of the valley bulbs on top of kitchen or dining room tables throughout the fall and winter, Castiglia suggests. “Kids love watching the flowers bud and bloom, and the flowers make a centerpiece that scents the whole room.” This fall, you may also want to pot some red or pink amaryllis bulbs from the garden store so that they’ll bloom in time for Christmas.