When the pandemic came, some people drank about it, some people wrote about it — and some people planted potatoes about it.
When the shelter-in-place order came down for my county, I went to the community garden. For the past year, I’ve been helping with the community garden at St Stephen’s in-the-Field Episcopal Church (7269 Santa Teresa Blvd, San Jose, CA 95139).
One of my gardener friends had texted me the leaked announcement of the shelter-in-place order around noon; we had until midnight. We had no idea when anyone would be able to get to the garden and had hundreds of seedlings we needed to get out of the nursery beds. The seedlings were fruit vines we are growing from seed; California natives we are growing to build a California native garden on the church’s campus; transplanted volunteer oaks from the church’s 450-year-old mother valley oak.
People are dying in hospitals, hospices, and homes; they are today and they were on March 17. But I’m not a doctor or a nurse. So I solved the problem in front of me. I had to get the seedlings out.
Texting, emailing, and Discord messaging brought together a dozen gardeners who agreed to foster the seedlings for the foreseeable future. Members of the church had been gamely accepting seedlings for weeks, so the garden’s distributed shelter system was already in-place.
Within 6 hours, hundreds of plants were safely on apartment windowsills and mobile home backyards, on tables made from old fence posts and broken garbage cans, saw horses and petition-drive folding tables pressed into service as a backyard nursery.
This post is the first in a series about gardening during a pandemic. I aspire for it to be something like the BBC’s Gardener’s World, but instead of a 50-year-old Colonialist-apologist TV program with a massive heritage garden and a sizable travel budget, we’ve got: me, my gardening friends in South San José, and a global pandemic. Some of the gardeners I’ll be writing about are still working during the pandemic and some unable to work; some live in apartments, some in houses with backyards, and some in pre-fabricated home parks; most are queer women and nonbinary people in their 20s and 30s, but there will be guest appearances by 90-year-old grandmothers and 11 year old first-time gardeners and the wide cast of characters who I’ve met through my community garden.
If you’d like to hear more about this, sign-up to get these updates by email on the right-hand side of this page. If you’re writing about your garden in this moment or have advice, feel free to leave a comment.
As we now say in 2020, stay safe, stay healthy.