Life on Flying Bunny Farm
My wife and I have moved 10 times in our 30 years of our marriage, and each time I’ve planted some sort of garden, ranging from a meager patch to a sprawling 20- by-20-foot plot near the back fence. Gardening is the one activity I’ve found that quiets my mind and dampens some of my Type A tendencies. Perhaps because it reminds me of being a boy and playing in the dirt.
Of course the other attraction is the flavor of freshly grown food. I didn’t grow up gardening, and was in my early twenties when I first experienced garden-fresh produce. It was a revelation. Vegetables aren’t mushy? They don’t taste of aluminum?
So three years ago, when it became clear we needed a larger home, my main concern was where I would put the new garden. My wife, Renita, was concerned with everything else: comfort, privacy and space for our family, location, and aesthetics.
I remember the concern on her face when she told me one evening that she had found the perfect new house for us, in a part of Athens—our funky little college town—where we had always wanted to live, at a price we could reach up a little and afford, with stunning 100-yearold woodwork, and a sweet front porch.
“Um,” she said, “there is one problem.”
“What?” I asked.
“There’s no backyard. Just a cement slab.”
The house was everything we had dreamed of, and as a bonus, it sat just across from the iconic Village Bakery, where a dedicated array of sustainable food enthusiasts (I call them “those damn hippies,” but with great affection) congregate for food and community. I couldn’t say no.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll learn to garden in containers. Like those urban gardens we used to admire when we lived in Philadelphia.”
“Are you sure?”
I wasn’t but said that I was.
We bought the house. Soon enough, I realized that the cement slab that serves as our backyard doesn’t get much light, but the side of the house—we are on a corner lot—faces East, and is bathed in direct sunlight for most of the morning and early afternoon. So I quickly dug up about 100 square feet of raised beds on the small side lawn, attached deer fencing to tall bamboo poles (Athens has about as many deer as college students, and they’re equally hungry), and started my garden. Within a few weeks I stumbled across a hand-carved wooden rabbit sculpture at an antique store, brought it home, and attached it to the poles that formed the garden gate. Within days, a friend’s child had dubbed my side yard “Flying Bunny Farm.”
The location has been great for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, basil, onions, garlic, and more, but what I didn’t anticipate is how on display my side yard garden would be compared to many backyard gardens I had cultivated over the years.
Because the garden gate is just a few feet from the sidewalk, and because of our location across from the busy bakery, dozens of folks walk by the garden every day, and before long, many of them were commenting on the progress of my plantings. I found myself giving impromptu tours, offering garden advice to my neighbors, proselytizing over the taste of Italian dandelion greens.
“You grow dandelions?” people would marvel. “I spend hours trying to get rid of them.”
After countless questions, I stuck prominent plant labels in the dirt so folks could appreciate the unique tomato varieties (Japanese Black Trifele, Indigo Rose, Oregon Spring), some of the more obscure herbs (Cuban Oregano, Papalo), and the cute, miniature yellow bell peppers (Tweety Birds).
Now, I’m an average gardener—enthusiastic, self-taught, but not sophisticated. I tend to buy my seedlings at the farmers market because I haven’t learned to start plants from seed without raising anemic, leggy sprouts. I’m confused by soil chemistry, and I often overwater. But within weeks, people were bringing their friends to see my garden, asking me where I found certain varieties of plants, seeking advice on what grows well in our Southern Ohio climate.
I’d like to think two or three new gardens were started this past summer simply because people could see what fun I was having, and how little equipment was needed to pull it off. I have become an accidental ambassador for growing your own food, making my own tiny contribution to saving our planet. And I can’t wait for the coming spring, when I will expand, and start all over again.