“It’s all happening at the zoo,” sang Simon and Garfunkel. That may be so — Fort Worth has a fine zoo — but it’s definitely going on at Common Ground, the North Richland Hills community garden.
Forty dollars a year buys a 4-by-20-foot boxed bed filled with a special vegetable garden soil from Living Earth in Fort Worth. All the tools that might be required — hoes, rakes, cultivators, shovels, watering cans, wagons — and all the organic fertilizers and problem-solvers are on hand in the garden shed.
Common Ground has gardeners from North Richland Hills, Hurst, Watauga, Colleyville, Keller and Grapevine.
“Some don’t have the space at home, or the back yard has matured and trees shade it too much. Some of them live in apartments. And some of them like to come out and talk with other like-minded people,” garden coordinator Dianne Spradling says.
Common Ground’s gardeners are all ages, but retired folks may be most common. “I heard people saying, ‘I would love to garden, but I just cannot stoop down,’ ” Spradling says. That’s when volunteers came together to raise the beds from ground level to thigh-high.
Most recently, a team from Home Depot raised eight beds as part of a grant to help veterans. Six of the newly raised beds, designated specifically for veterans, await other veterans to join the 10 who already garden here.
Now only 24 of the 72 beds remain at ground level; those will be raised as time and funds permit.
Stocking the shed is “another thing the garden can do to help gardeners be productive,” Spradling says. After all, “they’re putting food on the table for their families. And the more stuff we can put in the shed, it’s so much easier, especially for older people. They don’t have to haul bags and [tools] around.”
A stroll along the mulched paths reveals fruits and vegetables. Heads of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages are forming in one bed. Another boasts tender lettuces, curly heads of kale and tall red stalks of Swiss chard. Onions, radishes, potatoes, asparagus, corn and a devilish artichoke plant populate other beds.
Strawberries are ripening in patches, tiny green grapes have clustered on a vine, and flowers on a thornless blackberry bush promise sweetness to come.
This garden is truly a community affair. The Keep North Richland Hills Beautiful Commission germinated the idea. When the Parks and Recreation department came calling, asking if the commission was interested in starting a community garden, it was ready. Davis Memorial United Methodist Church offered to lease an acre of land at a nominal cost.
Parks and Recreation created the infrastructure — providing soil, constructing plots, putting mulch on walkways and covering the water bill. Students from the Birdville Center of Technology built the shed. Boy Scouts constructed arbors, fencing and benches. Students from TCC and Birdville High School volunteer community service hours.
Holiday Heights Elementary conducts an after-school program in the garden. Kids experience the plants in the children’s garden and identify bugs. “A lot of [these kids] have never eaten a pea that they liked until they ate a fresh pea here,” Spradling says with pride.
Because gardeners are generous folks, Spradling estimates that by the end of the season, some 200 pounds of surplus produce will have been donated to the food pantry at Davis Memorial.
Even the bees love Common Ground. They come for the nectar provided by asters, coreopsis, sages and salvias, passion vine, acanthus, vitex, and desert willow, and stay to pollinate the vegetables and fruit. It’s one of many symbiotic relationships in the life of the garden.
Susan Hayden Kennedy is a Colleyville-based freelance writer.
Show us your beautiful garden
Readers, do you have a garden you’d like to show off? We’d love to take a look. If it is selected for a “Show Us Your Garden” feature story, we’ll interview and photograph you amid your blooms. Email a brief description and three or four photographs of your garden — plus your name, telephone number and address — to email@example.com, with “Show Us Your Garden” in the subject line. Or send to: Show Us Your Garden, Star-Telegram Features Department, Box 1870, Fort Worth, TX 76101. Photos will not be returned. Email is preferred.