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Abundant effort helps South Hill garden grow

The Commons Community Garden, just across the street from Sacajawea Middle School on the South Hill, is an excellent example of creative use of space.

It’s located on a triangular piece of land next to the water tower there, and although it’s a smaller space than many other community garden sites, it holds 35 raised garden beds.

“We try to orient the beds north to south because that gives the best exposure to sunshine,” said Dennis Anderson, who’s the garden master.

Volunteer sunflowers bloom brightly above gardeners’ heads, and tomatoes are bursting out over the beds. Nearby Manito Tap House is growing a bed full of basil, and peas and beans climb the chain link fence. All the beds are full.

“We can’t fit any more here right now,” said Anderson, who’s been involved since the garden’s inception. “This is our third season.”

Anderson said a core group of about 20 people did most of the work establishing the garden, including hosting a huge garage sale.

The Commons is located on rent-free property owned by the Spokane Water Department, but gardeners still raised about $5,000 to get the garden started.

“We needed a fence, we needed raised beds, we needed to get rid of the sod, there was a lot to do,” said Anderson, adding that the fence is to keep out dogs, not people. “We never lock the gate.”

On Sept. 22, the Commons will host a swap meet and a community garden tour featuring nine gardens.

“We are hoping the swap meet will be a way for the gardens to exchange their extras,” said Anderson, “but if someone wants to buy stuff we are not going to turn them down.”

Anderson said he wishes the community gardens were better at supporting each other by sharing extra plants, materials, labor, tips and advice.

“I think some gardens have suffered because they haven’t had a manager during the growing season,” Anderson said. “That makes it difficult to get ahold of someone or to ask questions.”

The Commons has a big spring meeting where the previous season’s gardeners are invited back and have a chance to claim the same raised bed.

“But if you don’t show, you lose your spot,” said Anderson, adding that the garden’s rule is one bed per person, but one household can have more than one bed.

Like many other community gardens, the Commons strives to be organic and does not use chemicals or herbicides.

Smaller barrel-shaped compost containers are available throughout the garden. Currently potatoes are growing in them.

“We just decided to try that,” said Anderson. “We plan to dig the potatoes during the garden tour.”

During the Sept. 22 tour there will be a compost fair at the Commons, which has a fancy cedar composting bin located at the back of the garden. Anderson said he’s looking forward to hearing what the Master Gardeners have to say about composting, but he’s not sure how much he’ll change his ways.

“I have my own composting philosophy,” said Anderson, laughing and waving his hand over the tall pile of big cabbage leaves, pulled weeds and other clippings. “You put stuff in the pile and after a while Mother Nature will take care of it.”