Master Gardener Marye Jackson remembers eight years ago when the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden began on a half-acre plot too difficult to develop – gardeners began their initial efforts not by planting but by removing road base to prepare for a lush future.
On Sunday, Ohana Kuleana celebrated Jackson’s 90th birthday and the work of the past eight years in what indeed has become a lush half acre. It provides about 60 plots – either a full plot of 150 square feet or a half plot of 75 square feet – for community gardeners.
“This is really the seventh year of growing,” Jackson said. “The first year really was just shaping the land and preparing it. Mostly, it was digging rocks out from an old road base. In seven years, it has gotten lush. It has gotten better every year.”
Jules Masterjohn, an Ohana Kuleana community gardener, said a full plot at OK costs $80 for a growing season, a half plot is $40. Also, every gardener is asked to donate four hours a week to work on the garden, which is planted on the berm surrounding the individual plots, and to help out with events, such as Sunday’s open house.
Individuals are free to plant to their heart’s content on individual plots, and the four hours extra work they donate a week goes to keep the community garden on the berm healthy.
Jackson guides decisions on the berms, which grow fruit trees and perennials. Strawberries and other fruit-bearing perennials are used as ground cover to keep out weeds. Nitrogen fixers, such as comfrey, are strategically located to help fruit trees, which are the central point in 16 sections of the berm, which are called guilds.
Jackson credits former La Plata County Commissioner Bob Lieb, the garden’s founder and benefactor, for his support.
“He saw a garden here when most people just saw a swamp,” she said.
Sunday’s open house included a couple of garden tours, a performance of live music and a pie-tasting event, with everything culminating with a kombucha toast honoring Jackson. She said the mistake most people new to Southwest Colorado or to gardening make is that “they want to dig a hole and plant a seed.”
“What we’ve learned from (La Plata County extension agent Darrin Parmenter) is that you’ve got to prepare the soil. Once you do that, you can start to deal with our heavy clay, short season and lack of rain.”
Perhaps Jackson’s favorite gardeners are the Riverview Elementary students in Charlie Love’s science classes who use eight plots in the garden as a growing laboratory. They’ve even built a hoop house.
“Charlie had all these 8-year-olds out here building the hoop house. They were totally engrossed.
“It really is the community at work,” Jackson said. “When you can get kids to plant their first snap pea, and have them come back 60 days later and eat from their plants, they’re hooked for life.”