04 June 2012

Village Building at the Ujima Center

Stage 1 of the prep: Garden boxes have been ripped out.
When Susanna Low-Beer first asked me if I wanted to do something for the Village Building Convergence (VBC,) I said No. For the last several years I have been trying to transition out of my role as a permaculture teacher/leader and someone who goes gardening for other people. I have wanted to focus on writing and creative arts, and to keep the landwork to my own space at home. It just works better for me that way.

But when Susie suggested I take on her front yard, I couldn't resist. I have known her for years and that front yard has always been a pretty big mess. Not to say that it wasn't functional. She had rain barrels out there, catching water, and two large raised boxes for growing vegetables and strawberries. She had lovely little ceramic pots full of succulents all over the porch, and decorative things hanging above.

Work in progress. It happened fast!
The problem was aesthetics. Those blue plastic rain barrels are hideous! And the little pots on the porch were attractive enough on their own, but scattered around, they looked cluttered and made it impossible to sit anywhere. And the boxes? Ugh. I have never liked the way raised beds look. So weird to garden in a box like that when you could just garden in the ground.

I mean, this is her front door we are talking about! The portal to her life. I talked about this a bit before, when I was working on my own porch. But for Susie's house it was especially important because she is creating a permaculture education center there and frequently hosts parties and events.

Susie is also a healer who is really into Chinese Medicine and the I-Ching. And she lives in a culturally diverse neighborhood where not everyone knows about permaculture and organic living. So it made sense from every direction to create a front yard and entryway that would be beautiful and welcoming, plus educational and inspiring.

Voila! Much better!
So I told Susie yes, I would do it. I asked her to rip out the boxes and sheet mulch the whole front yard, to clean up as much as she could and then we would do the rest during the VBC. She wanted some sort of Mandala, so we discussed that and decided to do a basic Medicine Wheel design. She is working on a whole-system water catchment, so we decided to get the ugly rain barrels out of the front yard.

We used urbanite from her de-paved driveway to make mini-patios on either side of her porch. This will give her a place to put those cute little succulent pots, and still leave room for people to hang out on the small porch. We took the old prayer flags and broken windchimes down, leaving the space feeling more open and fresh.

After a full day of clearing the space, we were ready for the workshop. And what a workshop it was! We had a great turnout, people were knowledgeable and willing to work hard. In just a few hours we had worked together to build beds, mulch paths, and plant the garden full of medicinal herbs and fruit trees. Participants made new friends, learned about new plants, and shared in the transformation of an unattractive, disorderly yard into a beautiful, inviting garden. It was awesome!

I also spent some time getting to know the delightful Kelda Miller, and making ephemeral art around Susie's site. There were a lot of different projects happening at once, and it was nice to create tiny islands of beauty amidst the chaos.

I am still pretty committed to keeping my permaculture work close to home. But I realized through this that I do still enjoy gardening with others in this type of project, and am really happy that I said YES! 

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