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Growing Interconnected

In community gardens, lives become intertwined, just like the vines that cross from one plot to another.


Photo: Sheila Sarhangi

There's something enchanting about the Diamond Head Community Garden. Lizards sprint from one plot to another as soon as they feel the vibration of footsteps. Two Bulbul birds, like clockwork, fly into a tall cherimoya tree for a bath every time Ken—a native of New Orleans, who, fittingly, drapes his plot with Spanish moss—waters its long branches. Seven resident cats can usually be found asleep, snuggled next to a tomato bush. But mostly, it’s the people who nurture the garden who make it a magical place. 

There are 10 community gardens on Oahu; the Diamond Head Community Garden boasts 114 plots, each of which has a designated gardener who pays the city $18.50 per year. In return, the city provides water, and every now and again will dump a mound of mulch near the garden’s back entrance.

Nanette Wall at plot No. 72 grows green onions, Manoa lettuce and eggplant, some of which help to control her diabetes.

Photo: Sheila Sarhangi

There are rules by which each green thumb must abide. Produce may not be sold; no pesticides are allowed; plants may not shade another gardener’s space; weeds must be kept to a minimum; and no illegal plants can be grown.

Examining each of the plots, which measure roughly 5 feet by 17 feet, you can get a sense of the person who has given it life. There’s the woman at plot No. 58, who learned how to garden from her grandma when she was a child in Italy. Now, she’s taken the hobby on for herself, nurturing strawberries, eggplants, spinach and pineapples.

A former Maryland resident has tended to plot 71 for 10 years and grows herbs, such as parsley, mint, oregano, basil, rosemary, chives and lemongrass, to complement pasta and chicken dishes.

Shane, at plot 107, shares his space with his two-year-old son, who refuses to eat vegetables unless they’re grown in his garden—and also prefers to leave his toy monsters next to his seedlings.

Sandi Marynaik at plot 73 resides in Hawaii for six months out of the year, and during this time, spends three to seven hours a day at the garden, beautifying its outer edges with lush foliage and pieces of tile, while also tending to her own plot, filled with green onions, bok choy and Manoa lettuce.

What’s most surprising is the diversity of produce planted: taro, sugar cane, cherries, butternut squash, grapes, and a small, yet healthy, crop of 4-foot-tall corn. There is, unfortunately, an issue with people taking what is not theirs. But most say this blight pales in comparison to the overall friendly vibe of the space: Folks trade produce, share gardening tips and keep long-lasting friendships.

It’s a situation that mimics a small city, but on a micro level. People who would have otherwise never met work inches from one another, toiling under the sun for therapy, for the love of gardening or simply because they lack their own backyard. Their lives become intertwined, like the vines that cross from one plot to another.

 For a list of the gardens, as well as information on how to get your own plot, visit community gardens website.


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Honolulu Magazine March 2018
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