Earlier this season, my friend Cine and I came across a disheartening sight: a once thriving community garden in hilltop had been abandoned.

We wandered around, digging at the various beds and weeds. Silver dollar plants and mallow dotted the area, joined by fennel, sorrel, poppy.

17 of the 20 raised beds had been abandoned. Strawberries, lavender, rosemary, thyme, volunteer tomatoes, and all types of tiny herb and vegetable plants were struggling to grow through tall grasses that had taken over the beds, most of which were hidden in the same grass that covered the pathways.

Only a few years ago, this community garden was an oasis in Hilltop. I could see the former glory with every handful of grass I ripped up as we wandered the lot.

The pathways were once thickly mulched with bark, the beds filled with Tagro. Four rain barrels collected rain from the roof of a locked shed. A large, expensive, metal, rotating compost bin was rusted, the black gold it contained leaking from a split seam that had buckled open on the bottom. PVC pipe was stacked by the shed, perfect lengths for making cloches over the beds. It was heartbreaking.

For Cine, plants are to be nurtured and cared for, so they can in turn give back to us in beauty and harvest. They connect us to nature.

For me, land is everything. It sustains mind and body, provides a sense of peace and a space for quiet. We should steward the land and grow the soil, especially when we find it in a concrete community.

It is hard to see a community waste a space land in a thoroughly urban area. Environmentally-conscious items like compost bins and rain barrels become nothing but refuse when they are not used.

We wanted to become involved. But no one knew who was in charge. We talked to the few others that had rehabilitated a box or two, and the few who were willing to talk to us told us the history of the lot and confirmed that there was no contact. Everyone was ninja-gardening.

After digging for a month to find out who legally owned this land, Cine found the owners and learned that the land gift to the community had a hefty caveat: the land was given free to the community for gardening, but if it was abandoned and there were no gardens, the land would revert back to the owners.

At that point, we decided to join our ninja-gardening community, and care for two boxes.

We found out that we weren’t the only ones. While we were researching and asking questions and pointing out this community garden, others also were becoming interested.

Someone came through and cut down all the grasses and weeds. Strawberry plants were pulled from one box and placed into a freshly-prepared bed. Someone else had taken the old compost pile and bagged it for anaerobic composting. Tomatoes, zucchini and corn were sprouting from various beds that had been cleaned and composted.

One of the issues for this lot is water. There is no connection to a water line. But nearly every rehabbed bed had a bucket nearby to catch the rain. We saw a few natural deep watering systems.

So who is in charge now? No one. And everyone. In the middle of what is notoriously the roughest area of Tacoma, the community is slowly rehabilitating and redeveloping an abandoned community garden to former glory. There is no steering committee, no steward, no list. Little signs are posted: “This is composting, please call me if you have questions,” “This is grain, not weeds.”

It is truly a community garden.

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