Till Community Growth 

Walt Whitman's got nothing on Guy Clark, who we think has it about right in "Homegrown Tomatoes."

If I could change this life I lead

You could call me Johnny Tomato Seed

I know what this country needs

It's homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see

When I die don't bury me

In a box in a cold dark cemetery

Out in the garden would be much better

Where I could be pushin' up homegrown tomatoes...

There's only two things that money can't buy

That's true love and homegrown tomatoes

This is the time of year when there's no more enjoyable way to spend a Saturday than training clematis up the mailbox post, cutting clumps of mint from the garden to make iced tea, staking tomatoes that only last Saturday needed no support at all, watching morning glory overtake the fence and plucking spent blooms from potted petunias. Gardening can be a heavy-duty affair, with wheelbarrows and backhoes and hired hands, but it can also be nothing more than just piddling, exercising those restless hands with a series of small tasks that collectively make a home, a neighborhood, a community worth living in.

Gardens also happen to be the cheapest way to eat, to raise the value of real estate, to entertain yourself, to give your kids an education they'll never forget, to donate something life-sustaining. In the process, you might find yourself first waving at your neighbor, then suddenly on her porch indulging in an early afternoon gin-and- tonic, all the while chatting endlessly about the best deals on nyatoh garden furniture and fond memories of your grandmother's heirloom roses.

Before you leave, you might get an armload of cucumbers, inspiring you to return a few minutes later from your lower 40 to share a bumper crop of yellow peppers too plentiful to possibly be consumed by a single household.

There's more to all of this than Martha Stewart-style domesticity, good cooking or clandestine nip sipping among wives while the boys are away playing golf. Without getting dirt under your fingernails, having rocking chair conversation with the next-door neighbor and snipping oregano from the kitchen garden for your Aunt Mary's marinara sauce recipe, what would Saturday be like, after all? Most of the rest of America will have hopped in their hopelessly fuel-inefficient cars, driven to McDonald's for some burgers and super-sized fries, then returned to settle in an over-air-conditioned den of profound thoughtlessness for some Jerry Springer reruns. Which is what's wrong with America. Good God, it can be a dismal place indeed, overrun with obesity, poverty, blight, sprawl and ignorance, which is why creating a little utopia in our neighborhoods and communities is all the more crucial.

This Saturday, for example, the Woodland-in-Waverly Neighborhood Association is gathering for ice cream, conviviality and conversation about a parkette it plans to help the Scene develop on what is now a gravel parking lot. We announce these good intentions (yet to be consummated, however) not in the interest of back-patting or shameless self-promotion, but to encourage other businesses, homeowners, owners of vacant land, restaurateurs and whoever else to get in on the game.

In place of Dumpsters and gray gravel just a stone's throw from our windows here will go trellises and fruit trees and tulip poplars and cutting gardens. There will be benches and a picnic table, maybe even a gurgling fountain. It'll be a place where parents can read To Kill a Mockingbird to their kids, where a nearby party hostess in need of some basil can rescue her capresi salad, where this newspaper can host a happy hour and where we can all grow food to eat or give away. It will create its own little ecology, where insects will feast, where rabbits will nibble to the chagrin of caretakers, where volunteer sunflowers will suddenly sprout from underneath the bird feeders.

It won't be nearly so easy for some of the nearby thru-passers to toss their 40-ounce Schlitz bottles or their barbecue potato chip bags into that lot once it's made over. Perhaps they won't have any sweat equity in this little swath of happiness and beauty to be, but they too might discover that they nevertheless have a stake in its success and maintenance.

That would be the point. Goodness is contagious, and we really need it to spread.


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