First published in the Oct. 15 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
Gardening is magic — at least that’s the way Keith Novak sees it.
He’s been involved with the South Pasadena Community Garden for six years, and the sensation has always been the same.
“Growing something from a seed that you pull out of a packet and put in the ground, and all of a sudden it comes up and you end up eating vegetables or fruit or whatever from that thing you put in the ground,” Novak said, “that’s pretty magic to me.”
Novak and several other members of the community recently shared their knowledge of gardening, as well as the magic that it can offer, as part of Gardening 101: A South Pasadena Community Garden Talk and Herb Demonstration.
Sunday’s workshop was part of the South Pasadena Public Library’s “One City One Story” event, which this year is themed “Navigating Nature.”
“I was just looking at a map of local community things and I realized that the South Pasadena Community Garden is just a step away,” said Cynthia Mitchem, adult services librarian for the library. “Why not use a local group that you know already knows about all these things?”
The library is hosting a series of virtual and in-person programs as part of “One City One Story.” South Pasadena residents also voted Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” as the event’s book.
Gardening 101 was the first program of the library event and featured a presentation from Novak at the library as well as a trip to the community garden, where volunteers were waiting to give tours and explain the garden’s benefits to flora enthusiasts.
“Having the community garden was really nice because it gave me a plot of land that I could do my own gardening in that got really good sun, and all the tools are there and the water is there,” Novak said. “It also gave me a chance to meet other people and share stories and experiences and knowledge.”
The garden is nestled on Magnolia Street in a vacant Caltrans-owned lot that the city rents. It offers plots to residents for $70 per year and supplies gardening tools, hoses, water and more.
The garden is all organic and donates excess fruits and vegetables to local food banks. Those who work in the garden share their knowledge and help each other to become better gardeners.
Faye Nahm, a previous community garden volunteer and current farmer at Sarvodaya Farms in Pomona, was at the garden on Sunday to share her knowledge of rare herbs like Cuban oregano, Vietnamese coriander and bacopa monnieri.
She also shared advice for South Pas residents who may be first-time gardeners.
“Part of it is you learn from your mistakes, but then also part of it is, then you start learning to listen to your plants,” Nahm said. “They will tell you, like, ‘I don’t like it in the sun for this long, give me some shade,’ or ‘I need some more water.’ Once you spend time just paying attention, like any relationship, you’ll see that your plants start to thrive.”
Those who would like to apply for a plot can search “community garden” on southpasadenaca.gov. The library also offered a virtual discussion of native plant gardening featuring author and gardener Barbara Eisenstein and will host in-person and virtual book discussions for “Parable of the Sower.”
The magic of gardening takes many forms and, as Nahm observes, has ebbs and flows in popularity. Whether it was the victory gardens of World War II or the “plant mom” scene of the COVID-19 pandemic, gardening always has a place.
“There’s always a movement, there’s always a trend,” Nahm said, “but I feel like underneath that up-and-down current, there’s just this constant stream of people who are really in love with just digging their hands in the dirt.”