Community Gardening—In the Beginning…

Our long wait for the 200sf community garden plot is over! Late last week the letter finally arrived and with my number in hand, I called the volunteer Garden Manager. On Saturday, two foster girls and I dashed over to check the place out. We were excited to see we’d been given a plot near the street.
Two of my most frequent foster visitors were thrilled to be given the chance to make something of this space. They spent hours working on the walkway from the front gate to the other plots and they weeded too. I was completely shocked to be honest. This kind of freedom and space and ownership was something they leapt at in a way I’d never imagined.
Many of the kids we care for are often very isolated in almost every area of their lives. Often they are in special classes and are separated from other kids and family members, sometimes they are even in special separate schools, but most of all, they are isolated by an extreme lack of financial resources and family support. They often feel so left out of everything they develop fantasies about what their life should be like, and sometimes they just lie about it. Why shouldn’t they? When you’re an innocent child who is a victim of the circumstances typically brought about as a result of the choices made by the adults who should love you the most, being punished for lying is not even a blip on your radar.
Over time, I’ve noticed that many of them get anxious about all of this isolation and they turn to keeping their hands busy in order to keep the sad thoughts at bay. Sometimes busy hands can do good or beautiful things, but if you are isolated and have limited resources, busy hands can lead to trouble. I cannot tell you how often I have to pick up tiny random scraps of paper from kids who just rip things up because of their anxiousness.
Punishing these kids for lying or stealing just doesn’t work. Reversing the effects of their isolated feelings, teaching them coping skills, and helping them to understand that they are not alone DOES.
Saturday I had no idea what would happen, and overall, I was completely shocked. I have never seen the kids so calm and focused. They politely asked dog walkers who walked past the fence if they could pet their dogs, they bickered less and worked together more, but most of all, they worked really hard, asking tons of questions, and they were so positive about the rewards to come later in the summer.
In addition, the fact that the garden was not on our property, but instead, is part of a network in the community, made a difference that I’d never thought about before. When they discovered there are other troubled and at-risk youth all over the country in big cities participating in similar activities in similar environments, I think for the first time I witnessed both kids reflecting that they belonged to something bigger and better than their problems. That day what calmed them was a sense of pride that they so rarely are able to feel and that so many of us take for granted. They also realized that they now belonged to a great group, a group that can feed people, and that made them feel good—really good.

This success led them to the huge reward of dining out. Negotiating that often problematic situation led to another reward, so we drove up to a viewpoint and watched the city and identified mountains. Since I was so happy, and they continued to behave so well, they reached what I now call the ultimate level. Before returning home, we visited a Gelateria and they interacted with the strange setting with far more confidence than I’d ever seen before and they were so much more content and calm. I was so proud of them and I let them know that—repeatedly.

If you have any access to a community garden, I encourage you to participate in any program that helps troubled kids learn a skill that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. After only one day, I can tell you, you might just be blown away by the results. I know I was. It was a day I will never forget.

The Blues of Springtime, and Becoming a Therapeutic Foster Parent


As we slowly liquidate the sprouted seedlings in the basement, moving them into larger pots, and then into the neighbor’s borrowed greenhouse across the street, I feel spread thinner and thinner. This is the happiest time of the year, it is the busiest time of the year, but it is the most painful time of the year too when my chronic illness and immune system just fall apart. Some part of me says that I am far from the only one using gardening and its many pleasures to alleviate the effects of chronic pain and, just generally, the blues that come with all of this baggage.

Garden therapy is probably the most important job I perform, though now, therapeutic foster care is probably becoming more important. Of course one always hopes that their own children will help them out in the garden, but we all know that it’s a lot to ask of a brief visitor in your home with their own troubles and issues. When I started a few months back, I was worried that the kids might hurt some of my plants, but that is far from true. The plants are either ignored, or the blooms are lightly pawed and stared at for rather long periods of time. Crafts for the garden have been far more popular, in general, or anything craft-like. Many of the girls have also loved flower fairies while some boys have actually liked flowers and the complicated process of how things grow.

As things grow, I will return to bartering some plants on craigslist for weeding to alleviate some of my physical stress from the hereditary angioedema. This is a strange lesson for the kiddos to learn, but it is one that they seem to understand far more than I’d thought since many of them already have needed the rules bent for themselves in some way. Needing to enter what I prefer to call an early retirement used to feel pretty horrible when it meant that I had to say NO to many of the career choices I had opening up to me. Now, there is the ability to teach again and to help them with things few adults know how to do for themselves when their own lives fall apart midstream. To live on the fringes, making a life for yourself with dignity and the ability to take pride in your own self-care and the activities you love is not such a horrible thing. I am just so happy that I am able to be a homeowner, with the ability to do the things that I am doing now, with these amazing kids.