A community gardener faces ‘probation.’ What will come of the cauliflower and broccoli?

Hilary Abramson’s garden plot, for now.
Hilary Abramson’s garden plot, for now. Hilary Abramson

She was on probation.

It was cheerfully signed with the first names of the latest advisory board of The Fremont Community Garden. Nathan. David. Debbie. Wendy. Lynn. Aicha. Marylee. Alan.


She squinted, trying to put faces to names, but could only see lemons.

After a few years of prolific Armenian cucumbers, curly parsley, strawberries, cheese cauliflower, broccoli, poppies, mache lettuce and one cantaloupe that could have been a blue ribbon winner at the California State Fair, her days as an urban gardener seemed numbered.

Perhaps they had videotaped the collapse of her baby watermelon?

Most able-bodied gardeners in the City of Trees wait an average of three years for an empty plot at 14th and Q streets, owned and permitted by the city Parks and Recreation Department.

It was less than that for her, because she qualified for one of the few raised disability plots. Bad luck rounded the corner after she rehabilitated from a shattered left femur. She could no longer bend to garden on the ground, thanks to the steel rod in her left, shorter hip, but neither did she have to wait so long that her ashes would be mulched before she could plant a tomato. An elevated garden spot became available and she limped quickly toward the opportunity.

The board of directors seemed to be as loose as an organic bunch of carrots. Members told her not to worry about logging time spent working in common areas on the tablet in the tool shed. Able-bodied gardeners would pitch in. If she had a good day, pull that weed in the walkway, trim that dead branch on the fruit tree. Otherwise, relax. This is a healing garden.

Besides her continuing rehab, she was caring for her husband, who had been diagnosed with dementia. She finally had a place to which she could withdraw for two hours a day. Eventually, she found the courage to sing to the plants and offer spare veggies to passersby, and write a love poem to her “good dirt.”

Then, earlier this year, a new board of directors sent an email instructing her to log hours spent in the community area. She explained that she could not often bend to contribute as she wished. There were never “hours” to log.

Then came the new year spoiler:

“... your plots have had consistently high scores. However, your hours logged have fallen short to being able to register for 2018. We’ve discussed it as a board and feel that as gardeners who have been in good standing before that in this instance second chances should be offered ... please understand that 2018 will be a probationary year …”

By this time, her husband had Alzheimer’s disease, and she responded that they could not expect her to bend to their surreal insistence.

“It was certainly not our intent to offend or imply that you were being asked to leave the garden,” they wrote. “Far from it! We appreciate the effort that you are able to put in. We’re merely asking that all gardeners be sure to record their hours appropriately.”

She sent one more email. For many of us, she wrote, the garden is respite from crazy political reality. And now it has taken root here. You are soiling my community garden experience.

Could she get a reprieve? she wondered. If not, she told the directors, she would wait until her broccoli matures and take her automatic drip system and depart. And bequeath the blind enforcement of bureaucratic garden rules to the stinkbugs.

Hilary Abramson, a former Bee reporter, is a community gardener on probation,