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Growing in the Garden

Fairfax county has nine community gardens including one at Lewinsville Park

McLean’s community gardens at Lewinsville Park are beginning to bustle with activity. Garden enthusiasts from around the area have begun working their plots and sharing with each other tips for the coming season.

There are nine community gardens in the county like the one at Lewinsville Park. They are managed through the Fairfax County Park Authority and Green Springs Gardens Community Horticultural Program. “Right now everything is rented except for a few,” said Margie Joyce from Green Spring Gardens. There are a handful of plots still available at Lewinsville Park. There are two sections of garden plots at Lewinsville Park. One is beside the tennis courts and the other is on the sloping hill behind the playground.

Gardeners have the added bonus of being able to drive up the restricted access road leading to the gardens and can park right along the gravel road that rings the plots.

Joyce said the plots are not legacy plots but are often retained by the same gardener year after year.

Jim Karakoff has worked a plot at the community gardens for years and knows the benefits and drawbacks of urban gardening. “You get to know people, what they’ve growing, and what’s working for them,” said Karakoff. Gardeners at Lewinsville Park cite the camaraderie between gardeners as a highlight for this type of gardening. Once spring hits, gardeners of all ages and abilities can be found at the plots getting ready to plant.

Don Foreman worked his daughter's plot this weekend to prepare for spring planting. His family's experience last year during which none of the crops did well because of all the rain was echoed by other gardeners. Instead of being daunted by the lackluster growing season, plot holders at Lewinsville Park learned from the experience. “Over the winter everyone came in and built raised beds. Last year only one guy had them but this year almost everyone does,” said Foreman.

Learning from each other is part of the community gardening experience, according to Joyce.

There are some drawbacks to gardening in a park setting however. “The biggest problem here that I’ve had was theft. I don’t know why people do that but they do,” said Karakoff. “I caught a guy one day in my beds. He’d pulled up a whole bunch of beets. I chased him off down the road.”

KARAKOFF IS TYPICAL of area community gardeners — he owns property locally but it is too shady to adequately grow the vegetables he’s interested in.

Rats have been known to make a dent in the crops as well. “They start eating things when the creek over there dries up. Last year they even got in the tomato cages,” said Karakoff.

FCPA has a series of rules that gardeners must adhere to when renting a plot. One of the rules is to maintain the plots in a reasonable manner because, “Weeds and garden debris can serve as cover and food for undesirable insects, rodents and other vermin.” FCPA officials sporadically inspect the gardens for plots that are unkempt or unsightly and will issue notices to gardeners who fail to comply with the rules.

Plots cost $35 annually and are rented on a first come, first served basis. “A rate increase was approved by the Park Authority to $45 in 2005,” said Joyce. Renters take them over in the same condition left by the previous renter, which in some cases means there will be debris needing to be cleared from the site.

Green Spring Gardens also plot renters a list of contractors who will rototill land for them. Renters also get an updated list of vegetable planting dates.

FCPA HAS CREATED several upgrades to the gardens that make accessing and utilizing the plots easier. There are trash cans on-site for small trash and there is access to water for the plots.

There are a few prohibitions at the plots. These are intended to facilitate good relationships between plot holders. For example, large or invasive plants and vines, such as honeysuckle, are not allowed. Using pesticides must conform to recommendations set forth by the Virginia Cooperative Extension because they “can easily drift onto your neighbors tomatoes,” reads the Green Spring Gardens rules.

To acquire a plot or receive additional information contact Green Springs Gardens at 703-642-5173 or go to www.greenspring.org.