Urban Gardening: Taking Camp Home with You
Recently I came across a beautifully illustrated children’s book titled “Florette” by Anna Walker. In this story, a little girl named Mae moved with her family to the city. Mae wants to take her garden with her but her mother tells her that she can create a new garden in the city. When Mae arrives at her new city apartment home, she finds that there is no space for her garden among the concrete and cluttered buildings. She attempts to use chalk to draw butterflies and trees on the sidewalks but, inevitably, rain comes and washes away her forest.
Then one day Mae, her mother, her little brother, and her dog go for a walk in the city and Mae spots a bird, a reminder to Mae of the garden she left behind, and so Mae chases it until the bird flies through an open window into a plant store, which appears to Mae from the sidewalk to be a forest inside of a building. The plant store is closed so Mae cannot enter the forest, but she notices a small green sprout peeking out through a crack in the sidewalk. She picks the sprout, Mae’s own “piece of the forest,” and, with her mother, brother, and dog in tow, she runs back home. Immediately, she places her sprout in a jar with soil and she situates the jar on a window ledge in her apartment. She waters it diligently and over the next few days it grows. The other children in her apartment building notice this and they plant sprouts of green as well and before long Mae’s concrete apartment building courtyard is brimming with a forest of plants, just like the garden she left behind. This makes Mae happy. She has re-created the garden she left behind in her new home in the city.
I was especially drawn to this children’s book because I have a daughter, who is four, and, recently, we moved from our home with a large yard, three garden boxes, and lots of trees and flowers into a small apartment with only a tiny concrete patio. I wrestled with how to re-create this outdoor space for my daughter who would spend hours digging in the dirt and watering plants. After reading “Florette” to her, I promised her that I would take her and her little brother, who is two, to the plant store where they could pick out whatever flowers they wanted and we would plant them in pots for our patio garden. So, one Saturday, we went to the plant store and she and her brother chose a radiant collection of pinks, purples, shades of green, oranges, and yellows. True to my word, I let them choose whatever they desired. We gathered our array of colorful plants and took them home. We spent the entire afternoon getting dirty, re-potting our garden into various pots, and watering them. Since then these plants have grown and taken over our patio. My daughter and son play among them daily and each time I look outside I experience an overwhelming sense of calm and wonder. It’s not the same expansive garden we had at our old home but it’s a “piece of the forest” in our new home and it’s just as wonderful.
I am sharing this story because it reminds me of camp. Every summer, at the end of May, I pack up to go to camp. When I arrive at camp I am always awestruck by the overhanging trees, the forest that stretches for miles, the birds singing, basically the calm of nature. And then at the end of the summer, I go back home, which looks nothing like camp, but, each year, I try to take camp home with me in some way. It could be in growing herbs in a window box or going once a week to a city park to read under a tree or volunteering at a nearby urban garden. Camp is a beautiful natural space, and for most of us home looks very different from camp. Nevertheless, we can interact with the environment and nature everywhere we go. We can be environmental stewards in many ways when we leave camp. Environmental stewardship is a fluid construct that manifests in many different places and many various forms. Checkout Tyree Guyton, a well-known environmental activist, who uses his graffiti and urban environmental art to reshape Detroit’s East Side with his ongoing Heidelberg Project. For Guyton, “You can’t heal the land until you heal the minds of the people.” When you arrive home from camp this summer don’t forget to re-create your “piece of the forest” at home. I know I will, but I don’t yet know what that will look like.
By Molly Herrmann