The gardeners are busy trimming hackberries, turning compost, weeding and other chores on the list of workday tasks at the Gardens at Gus Garcia. By mid-morning on a recent Saturday, about eight people had arrived to fulfill their duties as renters at the community garden based at the City of Austin’s Gustavo “Gus” L. Garcia Recreation Center on East Rundberg Lane.
“The purpose of the workday is for gardeners to share, bond and maintain the common areas of the garden,” says Julie Wasserman, the volunteer site manager.
The garden, founded in 2012, has about 25 plots, roughly 80 square feet, which rent for $50 annually, Wasserman says.
“They vary in size a little bit,” she says. Included in the rental fee comes the use of water, tools, common areas (such as herb garden, pollinator bed, compost bins and more) and other benefits, she says. With recent rains, the enclosed gardens are lush, and a large rain cistern adds to the charm of the place.
People grow vegetables, culinary herbs and flowers, she says.
Central Texas, overall, seems to be welcoming to community gardens. The Coalition of Austin Community Gardens, which “facilitates the creation of more community gardens in the Greater Austin Metro Area,” has a listing of about 70 community gardens in the area, on its site at communitygardensaustin.org.
Though Gardens at Gus Garcia is based on City of Austin land, it is not a public garden, Wasserman says The Sustainable Food Center is the main overseeing nonprofit group for the garden, and the center provides seeds and other resources, she says.
(This location is also home to a Senior Serenity Garden, but that is available for members of the seniors group at the recreation center.)
For renters at the Gardens at Gus Garcia, workdays are held on the second Saturday of each month, Wasserman says; renters are required to participate.
Brent Jones, 36, used the push mower to cut grass in the garden’s common areas. Jones downsized recently and rented his plot “just this summer,” he said. “I enjoy the hobby, and I enjoy the food.” As well, he says, “It’s a really efficient way of gardening in an urban setting. … We all learn from what each other is doing. There’s a social aspect.”
In addition to working in the community areas, Jones says he would also spend part of the morning “planting seeds for fall: lettuce, carrots, beets,” and more in his own garden space.
Also, the gardeners help each other out, when needed. For example, hesays, “When I went out of town, my fellow gardeners watered my plot, and I did the same for them.”
On this workday, Deana Dossey, treasurer for the gardens, turns compost with a pitchfork. She says she had to wait about six months to rent her plot, and currently in her garden space, “I have okra, and I have an oregano plant, and I have black-eyed peas. But I like to grow Swiss chard.”
Dossey enjoys working with the others. “That’s one of the big things; you learn from the other gardeners.”
Greg Alderette, 46, lives within walking distance of the garden. “This is one of the first things I discovered when I moved here (recently),” says Alderette, who had never before gardened.
He loves “the social aspect, and just being outside is therapeutic,” he says.
Susan Moran, 50, was busy hauling off hackberry trimmings in a wagon during the workday. In her garden plot, Popsicle sticks are used to label what the plants are.
“This is my first attempt,” Moran says. “So far, so good. … It’s a lot of fun.”
Communal areas of the garden include picnic tables (recently painted bright colors), benches, a shed, a pollinator bed and an herb bed and more.
The herb bed, with a sign that reads “All help, all share,” grows such things as rosemary, epazote and more.
At the pollinator bed, abloom with flowers, Wasserman says, “We try to have cyclical blooming plants to provide food year-round for the pollinators (such as butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects).”
About 40 percent of the renters are people from Myanmar, Wasserman says.
That includes Sun Maji, 20, who recently rented a plot with her mother.
“(My mother) loves to garden,” Maji says. “I am learning from her.”
In addition, “I want to grow some things that I like to eat (that are) expensive at the grocery,” such as water spinach, she says.
Maji says many of the renters from Myanmar know each other, and news of the community garden spread through word of mouth.
Dossey said she has enjoyed getting to know members of the community from Myanmar.
“I think it is one of the treasures of our community garden,” she says. For example, “I would never have known about roselle,” which they use to cook in things such as sour soup, Dossey says.
Wasserman, who has been part of the gardens for four years, says she has seen things change in that time, with “more project-oriented goals,” she says.
Another community area is a young orchard of fruit-bearing trees that do well for our area. "They are young trees, so we’re not getting a whole lot yet," Wasserman says. "The peaches did well.” Currently the orchard has about 10 trees, including persimmon, plum and fig trees, she says
The garden has some vacancies; anyone interested in renting a plot can find information on the group’s Facebook page, Gardens at Gus Garcia.
“Now’s a great time to put in a fall/winter garden and rent,” Wasserman says.