NCC East 40 Community Garden has been keeping me busy, among other gardens and events around Bethlehem, Pa.
Musikfest raged outside my window for 10 days.
Parking has been pretty tight in our little town of Bethlehem; fortunately, I work from home (or wherever there’s wifi) and I refused to move my car.
I enjoy the live music in the street, but I’m missing out on harvest season.
Whenever I run into a familiar face at the Fest, more often than not, he says, “This is Sienna. She has a huge garden.”
I don’t bother to correct them because it is true. The square footage has probably increased, though I haven’t had time to measure. I lost one garden and gained four!
Garden #1: My Window
The first is a humble one – cat-friendly herbs and houseplants in my window. Purple and green basil, rosemary and thyme paired with a white African Violet, polka-dot plant and mauve dwarf rose.
My cat Honey nibbles on the herbs occasionally. Her favorite is the rose, and because she bit every last bud, I established it in the courtyard at the feet of four zinnias reaching for an ounce of sun.
The thyme has since wilted. Nothing ever seems to last in this pot my dad made, though it offers a temporary home for many; with little room to grow and a burst of color to briefly let each plant shine. As the thunderstorm passed on Tuesday (and Kesha threw a glitter party in the distance at SteelStacks), I transplanted what was left in the courtyard too. There’s always thyme.
Garden #2: The Courtyard
The courtyard behind my apartment is a whole new territory for me … full shade. It’s tricky getting even the impatiens to bloom, let alone sprouting lettuce. A test of patience and trial and error.
I brought this catmint from the Bluebell home to give it a chance. Like most of my favorite perennials: Snip it to the ground and it springs right back up.
Remember my moon garden idea? It’s finally coming to fruition. What seemed like the last flat of white new guinea impatiens came my way in July. A few frilly alyssums keep the bird bath company.
And, as usual, I can’t resist the hot pinks – a coleus, begonia, and impatiens.
Just before the rain on Tuesday, a purple sweet potato vine rolled down 3rd Street. I turned around to catch it. The poor thing probably fell out of one of the city’s planters, so I decided to give it a home out back.
This was when I bumped into my friend Joel, who was also attempting to avoid the storm. He saw the sad vine cradled in my arms, and said, “Yep, that’s about right.”
Turns out the Other Gardeners in the courtyard also work from home. We weren’t sure what to do with ourselves when the wi-fi went out, so we planted a communal lettuce patch … and this time, it sprouted! Lettuce is not “supposed” to grow in tropical conditions; we should have waited until fall. But hey, it’s always worth a try.
Garden #3: CoWork 414
I found another community of remote workers to garden with – CoWork 414.
My editor Jennifer and I carved out some time on a Saturday afternoon to landscape the rear of the building, which faces north and gets a fair amount of sun.
Her husband Gary wanted to dig out the concrete bumper, but I said, “Let’s roll with it.”
I did an “emergency marigold run” and picked up a couple lantana and verbena that spill over the bumper.
I have to admit, I never thought I’d get a taste of urban gardening. I kind of scoffed at the idea – don’t flowers and veggies belong in the wilderness?
Not always. Community grows just about everywhere if you look for it.
Garden #4: NCC East 40 Community Garden
So if you haven’t figured it out, I’m shamelessly plugging my favorite people and places in this post.
Issavo, pictured up top, whispered in my ear, “I’m going to be like a little bee buzzing around you.”
That was in May, and she’s kept her promise. We’ve been inseparable ever since. I’ve coaxed her down to the NCC East 40 Community Garden. She thinks it’s pretty gross when I chomp on parsley with my nose in the dirt like a rabbit (but she sticks around anyway).
My parents and I have our plot of “The Three Sisters” – pole string beans grow up the Indian corn and replenish the soil with nitrogen; summer squash crawls on the ground. The space is tightly packed also with tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, herbs, sunflowers, zinnias … and the dahlias bloomed, at last.
Daad tasked me with landscaping the shed at The NCC East 40 Center for Clay and Fire. One day he invited me to hang out, and the next thing I know he’s funding my obsession.
We beautified the shed just in time for his “First Ancestors” workshop. Participants were the First Ancestors in a long line of potters to process clay straight from the garden.
Our experience at the East 40 feels so spontaneous and serendipitous. Poetic, yet practical.
The wood-fire kiln is like a campfire for us to gather and start anew.
I popped by with a shovel in hand and stoked the fire; they awaited their finished product, as I did mine (cucumbers).
Meanwhile, they harvested clay soil for the next generation.
The “fast fire” is a different animal. Not better, not worse … just different. Compared to a traditional lengthy wood firing, it conserves wood. Results depend on the flame and the ash deposits, which are less pronounced in a short fast fire than in a traditional wood firing because it lasts 5 hours, not 5 days.
Fast fire rests between this traditional wood firing and raku. While raku swiftly produces decorative, often iridescent pottery, the fast fire pieces are functional. The beauty of our experience – elements of each type of firing, but the outcome is of a different nature.
“First Ancestors” is rather fitting because the first known ceramic object that represents a human symbolizes fertility. She is the Venus of Dolni Vestonice. She, and we, join a long line of animals. There was a time before us, and there will be a time after. It’s up to the group of potters to pave the way.
The premise really hits home. My mom has been saying for as long as I remember, “We are a family of artists.”
In China, Japan and Korea, potters were formed as a multi-generational family. At least 3 generations prepared the clay for future ones. At the garden, we do the same.
Yet, there’s a difference. In an ancient pottery family, you couldn’t be an apprentice unless you were a son or grandson. Our present moment welcomes anyone into the tribe. The Ancestor has expanded. At the East 40, we’re starting a new family.
How community gardens have saved me
Issavo and her family invited me to take a look at their apartment complex in May. It was the first of several in my search … and way out of my budget. I walked around in a haze.
“How many families live here?” I asked the tour guide.
“What do you mean? As many as there are apartments,” she said, matter of fact.
“So … there are no single people?”
“Sweetie, even one person is a family. You and your cat, you’re a family.”
At that moment, her face came into focus. I wasn’t going to move to this fancy place with a pool. But I knew I was going to start a family.
Honey in the window, the couple in the courtyard, the CoWorkers, and the artists and gardeners at the East 40 – these communities cleared the fog.
And now when my dad sees me cradling a plant, he asks, “Where are you gardening today?”
24 thoughts on “Gardens 1, 2, 3, 4! NCC East 40 Community garden and more!”
Really enjoyed reading this article, home is where your heart is, and there you find your family, the whole world, the universe, you are the universe ❤ You are a flower beautiful as a white dahlia ❤
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Lovely, both your gardens and your writing! Don’t you love this time of year, when the season is drawing to a close and your plantings are at their peak? Soon you’ll get to enjoy the transition, as well. Thank you for a wonderful read.
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A beautiful tour and a touching tale…thank you for sharing both with us. Once more, I’m compelled to share them with others…
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