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Browne’s Addition garden grows more than crops

Leona Brumitt grows herbs and flowers, like bee balm, foreground, in a patch she shares with Robert Chenault in the community garden in Browne’s Addition. (Jesse Tinsley)
Leona Brumitt grows herbs and flowers, like bee balm, foreground, in a patch she shares with Robert Chenault in the community garden in Browne’s Addition. (Jesse Tinsley)

There are several things neighbors will not find in the Browne’s Addition Community Garden: a raised bed, a straight line and a fee to garden.

In the garden on the south side of All Saints Lutheran Church, facing Coeur d’Alene Street, sunflowers and hollyhocks bloom high over melons and potatoes, tea herbs and nasturtiums. Potatoes and carrots mingle with onions and strawberries. And okra.

“I’m from Georgia. I wanted to try for okra and for good melons,” said Leona Brumitt, who coordinates the garden with Robert Chenault.

The garden has a tomatillo infestation, thanks to children spreading the seeds randomly in early spring.

“We just use them for all sorts of things, for salads and for dressings,” Brumitt said.

Compared to other community gardens this one has an abundance of flowers, including bee balm, coneflowers and coreopsis.

“The flowers attract pollinators like bees and bugs that do good work in the garden,” Chenault said. “People spend too much time trying to get rid of bugs. We need some of them to grow a good garden.”

The garden got started when a sprinkler system watering the church’s lawn broke about six years ago.

Brumitt said the Rev. Alan B. Eschenbacher suggested they put in a garden to help feed people instead of spending a lot of money on fixing the sprinklers.

“And that’s how I got involved, pulling out the grass and getting the beds ready,” Brumitt said. “The garden started in one corner, and it’s just grown. We are out of space now.”

Today 60 people garden there, and there’s always a waiting list, said Brumitt.

The garden contributes to Plant a Row for the Hungry and to the Tuesday night dinner put on by the church.

The latter feeds between 80 and 120 low-income people and most of the groceries come from Second Harvest.

“We supplement what we get with what we grow in the garden,” Chenault said. “Anything we get that’s wilted or not good we use for compost. We make food out of it one way or the other.”

Chenault said some neighbors have “pooh-poohed” the church’s and garden’s efforts to feed people, but to him that’s a big part of what the garden is about.

“I don’t mind if people take something from the garden,” Chenault said. “If they take a tomato it’s because they are hungry. It’s food, man.”

Though the garden may look unorganized, there’s a system to the apparent madness.

Every garden section has a garden captain, said Brumitt, and the captains take turns delegating chores such as weeding and composting.

“They are responsible for things not getting completely out of control,” Brumitt said.

The youngest gardener is a toddler and the oldest past 80. And the garden welcomes gardeners of all denominations.

“We have Buddhist and Wicca and Catholics and everything you can imagine,” Brumitt said. “You don’t have to be a church member to garden here.”

This year, Brumitt said some of the children at the garden were very interested in seeds and where seeds come from, so they let a couple of plants go to seed, including an especially good kale.

“It’s just a fun thing to do,” she said, “and we’ll see what we can grow from them next year.”

One big project garden volunteers would like to complete is the creation of a wheelchair-accessible bed.

Chenault said a neighbor in an electric wheelchair would like to garden, but the chair is so big and cumbersome that even a raised bed wouldn’t be enough.

“We are hoping to construct a garden table that’s off the ground far enough that the chair can get in beneath it,” said Chenault.

What’s his favorite thing about the garden?

“It brings people of all kinds together,” said Chenault. “It goes way beyond growing vegetables.”