Community gardens provide a creative way for St. Louis Park residents to gather and celebrate the outdoors together. These gardens also supply bountiful baskets of produce and beautify the city with flowers. Some community gardens began as long as 10 years ago, with help from the city and neighborhood associations.
The idea behind community gardens is to provide neighborhood gardeners with rented plots grouped together in public areas. Plot rental fees are approximately $25 per year, $30 for Texa-Tonka and Hurd, with water provided by the city in some cases. Gardeners bring their own seeds, fertilizer and gardening tools, and get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Parks are beautified by the gardeners’ efforts and park visitors appreciate and enjoy the flowers grown by community gardeners.
Susan Melbye began cultivating a community garden plot in her Bronx Park neighborhood in 2000. She heard about the opportunity from a neighbor, rented a plot and took over as community garden coordinator in 2003. “The community garden is a wonderful way to get to know your neighbors,” Melbye says. Bronx Park community gardeners meet the third Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. till noon during the growing season.
There are 22 rented garden plots in the Bronx Park community garden. Each gardener plants and tends his/her own plot. Together they maintain four perennial beds, one herb garden and a woodchip walking path between plots. Gardeners often plant beans, tomatoes, peppers, radishes and lettuces. “One gardener successfully grew artichokes,” Melbye says. “Another planted corn. It’s fun to say you grew corn in St. Louis Park.”
The Bronx Park garden also has a regularly featured role in a local cultural happening. A few years ago, a theater group called Mixed Precipitation received a grant to bring opera to community gardens in the Twin Cities. The group of five singers performed a picnic operetta with the Bronx Park community garden as their backdrop; they even brought along a chef who prepared snacks from the community garden’s vegetables for the audience.
“The picnic operetta was one of the coolest things that’s ever happened at our community garden,” Melbye says. “Around 150 people came, sat on blankets or just wandered by and then stopped to enjoy this beautiful event. A few gardeners started growing sunflowers every year because they make such a beautiful backdrop for park performances.”
At the end of the growing season, some Bronx Park community gardeners have begun donating surplus produce to the St. Louis Park Emergency Program (STEP) food shelf. “In years past, STEP had no way to store fresh produce,” Melbye says. “Now they accept produce donations and were surprised to receive close to 245 pounds of fresh produce from us in 2012 and 2013 combined.”
Ten years ago, Cindy Amundsen saw a notice about community gardens in a local newspaper. She was intrigued by the idea of growing her own food and flowers. “I don’t have a spot in my yard level enough for a large garden,” Amundsen says.
Amundsen invited her friend Christy Corzine to sign up with her. They each rented one of the 20-by-20-foot plots in Amundsen’s Texa-Tonka neighborhood. “In the beginning, only half the plots were rented,” Corzine says. “Cindy and I tried to manage two to three plots at a time. Now there is a waiting list.”
Amundsen focuses on companion gardening in her plot, planting flowers right alongside her vegetables to attract beneficial insects. She grows small quantities of tomatoes, peppers, carrots, peas and strawberries. “I didn’t grow up gardening,” Amundsen says. “I’ve learned a lot by trial and error and talking to others in the gardens.” She also likes gardening with people from a variety of backgrounds. “All the different people offer a wide variety of expertise,” Amundsen says. “I met a Russian family that grows currant bushes. I never would have thought to grow currants if I were gardening alone in my backyard. My greatest joy is meeting people at the gardens.”
Corzine agrees. She loves having neighbors right there so she can see what they’re planting. “We share our gardening joys and tribulations,” Corzine says. “I’ve become friends with some of the other gardeners. We even have dinner together during the winter.”
At the Texa-Tonka garden, Corzine likes to set aside space specifically for growing food for the food shelf and encourages other gardeners to donate their surplus produce. “Most gardeners have learned to plant only what they need so as not to be wasteful,” she says. “But many generously provide excess fruits and vegetables to neighbors who’ve watered or tilled for us.”
Browndale and Minikahda Vista
Over in the Browndale neighborhood, the gardens are maintained by a small group of volunteers. “We’re not a community garden in the sense of rented plots and veggies to take home,” says Mary Maynard, one of the garden volunteers. “We are a volunteer group committed to tending a neighborhood butterfly garden and a traditional perennial flowerbed.”
Minimal financing to support this volunteer effort is raised through the Browndale and Minikahda Vista neighborhood plant exchange. This annual event, held each May at Browndale Park and sponsored by their neighborhood association, brings neighbors together to share plants from their own yards. When things get overgrown or need dividing, Browndale and Minikahda Vista neighbors can take their excess plants to the plant exchange to trade for something else. Or they can purchase other plants from the neighborhood for a small fee.
“The plant exchange has grown into a decent-size activity,” says Maynard. “People fill their cars with everything from tiny violets to trees and shrubs.” //
Residents with or without a green thumb can benefit from the presence of a community garden in the neighborhood. The gardeners report that it is not uncommon for local residents to go down to the community gardens just to take a look. “People stop to chat about gardening,” Susan Melbye says. “Folks who grew up on farms offer tips and share their gardening experience and advice.” The community gardens in Melbye’s Bronx Park neighborhood are situated near a bike path. Often, cyclists will stop by and ask about the gardens. Melbye agrees with Corzine that gardening with neighbors helps her feel more connected to the community, she says: “I enjoy working as a group.”
For more information about community gardens, contact Jim Vaughan, environmental coordinator for St. Louis Park, or your neighborhood association.