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Touched By a Garden

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Oct. 31st, 2015 | 08:10 am
location: Portland, OR

Six months ago, when I took over the Galen’s Way at NCNM in Portland, Oregon, I never imagined it would become a stopping point for tour groups.  I never quite foresaw the joy children would have to see their plants grow tall and artwork displayed on the garden fences.  I knew I’d enjoy getting my hands in the dirt and showing others how to do the same, but the ripple effects have taken me by surprise.

It was May, 2015 when I first took kids from a local elementary school over to the garden to plant small artichokes and blueberries.  The kids were timid to dig into the dirt freely, and were unsure of how best to place the plant in the hole they eventually dug.  When it was finally in with dirt patted down around it, they started running around the garden, exclaiming their newfound grand visions for how best to organize the entire garden.  The next day, their parents were happy to tell me that their kids wouldn’t stop talking about gardening, and that it seemed their inspiration was going to have to result in a cultivated back yard.

This trend gained momentum once groups from surrounding schools began contributing to the garden beds.  With a little coaxing, three nearby elementary schools made the time in their schedules to tend to two to three, 20 foot long beds, planting pumpkins, wheat, lavender, calendula, and many sunflowers.  One school’s kids even went the extra mile to paint over a dozen, elaborate, three-foot tall plaques of common garden plants.  The involvement has motivated people all over town, leading to several donations and discounts that have helped the garden blossom into the wonderful, lush, relaxing place that it is today.

The lot at the corner of SW Naito and SW Meade had previously been vacant before the college decided to pursue beautifying the area in 2014.  With the help of Galen’s Way, an herbal medicine company, they were able to install water, 10 garden beds, a mulched ground, and a green perimeter fence.  Unfortunately, it was then unclear who would actually do the gardening.  In 2015, I became involved after being invited to bring students to the garden, which later led to involving other schools.

Today, the garden has over a dozen 12+ foot tall sunflowers towering over the fence, healthy, aromatic rosemaries and lavenders garnishing beds of vegetables and flowers, and the latest addition of a landscaped area.  This newer space will provide for next season’s medicinal plant section, and is designed within a winding walkway before opening into a small meeting area.  A picnic table with four chairs sits in the open area, and the fresh wood chip layer that was placed last week provide refreshing scents of cherry trees.  Humming birds zip from one sunflower to the next, birds sing in neighboring fig trees and enjoy hiding below pumpkin leaves, and honey bees, whose hive is boxed nearby the garden, have found select locations in garden beds for drinking areas.  Tall broccoli heads stick up from lower parts of garden beds amidst their abundant yellow flowers, and hot orange calendula and bright red zinnia flowers surround them with backdrops of lettuce grown to seed.  The environment is as uplifting as one can ask for of a natural space within our metropolis.

As time continues forward, The Galen’s Way garden is going to become more abundant and vibrant, and will likely include the contributions of more people.  Volunteer opportunities are growing, and the space already requests cost-free registration for those interested in using the common space for tai chi classes, meetings, or group lunches (the website may be found on Google Maps).  As word spreads from the photos taken from tour groups, use is expected to become a desired community resource.

Most importantly, this garden symbolizes hope.  When I see groups of people with illnesses walk down from the nearby hospital just to take pictures of the garden, it reminds me that the beauty of nature breathes life force into us.  It represents that central place in our hearts that knows we can slowly, gradually build an entire society that uplifts us just as much as those tall, colorful sunflowers.

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