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Washington Voices

Dedicated gardeners gather

Community garden has strong social aspect

Tucked away on a small extension of Centennial Park in Cheney near the intersection of Seventh and Mary streets is a community garden, a shared patch of land where Cheney residents can grow their own produce, herbs and flowers.

“I think this garden has been going on since the mid ‘70s,” said Carl Ruud, the garden chairman. Every spring, gardeners are assigned a 20-by-40-foot plot, for which they pay $30 per year toward water costs. Members also contribute about 20 percent of their crops to the Cheney Food Bank.

Penny Bone is finishing up her first summer as a member of the community garden. She said she used to live at the Christmas Tree Farm outside of Cheney and when she moved to town a year ago she found she could continue to garden.

Bone said she starts with herbs such as comfrey, which she infuses with oil and rubs on scars and rashes.

She also grows savory, lemon balm, chamomile, sage, feverfew and basil.

Then she moved on to plant kale, snow peas, eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce and is looking forward to planting garlic in October.

Her flower bed includes an actual bed – she has an old headboard and footboard rooted into the ground around her flowers.

She said that joining the garden has been fun; after spending many years gardening alone, she has found she likes the camaraderie of a community garden.

“It’s so much fun to have people to talk to,” Bone said.

The garden is a social place. Many gardeners – there are about 18 to 20 with plots this year – bring chairs to sit in, shell their peas, trade food and chat with others.

Andrea Kraft said she appreciates that everyone bands together and takes care of other gardeners’ plots when they can’t. She said Ruud often steps in if someone needs to go out of town or if someone starts off the season excited about the garden, then gets bored and abandons the effort.

John and Barbara Ballister grow so much produce that Barbara said she never has to buy produce in the summer. The two grow carrots in their plot, cover them up when the weather gets cold and have fresh carrots throughout the winter.

“I think we understand how people lived 400 years ago,” John Ballister said.

The community garden is organic – it is pesticide- and herbicide-free, gardeners use leaves from surrounding maple trees to cover their plots in the winter and get compost from the city for the soil.

John Ballister said he spends about an hour a day on his plot. When he was in the Air Force, he used to run the gardens at Fairchild Air Force Base.

“This is so much easier than flying airplanes,” he said.

Ruud said the gardeners meet a couple of times a year and most people start their gardens in the spring.

“Nobody gardens because they have to,” said John Ballister. “They garden because they like it.”