How their garden grows

Jaden Swindell, 6, planted his family’s first seedlings at Memorial Park Community Garden on Saturday with a little help from his mother Iris.

A new community garden opened on Saturday at Memorial Park in La Mesa, complete with about 40 raised garden beds as well as four easily accessible Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA-approved beds all filled with garden dirt. A composter stood nearby and several shiny-new green hoses hung coiled, waiting for new gardeners to claim them for their patch of earth.

Two raffia ribbons decorated with a floppy, green bow were ceremonially sliced open: the first cut was by Mayor Mark Arapostathis with La Mesa City Council members in attendance; the second cut was from non-profit Park and Recreation Foundation Executive Director Misty Thompson with Director of Community Services Sue Richardson and other key community members by her side.

From left to right: La Mesa City Council members Jack Shu, Colin Parent and Bill Baber gathered as Mayor Mark Arapostathis cut a ribbon at La Mesa’s newest community garden on May 2.

Arapostathis said Richardson was behind the project for many years and “although we had to wait with COVID,” it was worth the wait to feel connected at the in-person ribbon cutting.

With a 3-2-1 countdown, families were released to simultaneously dig into the dirt in unison, deliberately timed as a sign of community.

One prospective gardener, Ana Walsh came armed with a single tomato plant. Her husband, Joe Walsh, who described himself as her “wingman” mischievously said the seedling is “the chosen plant” and was selected for its reliability.

Jack DeMent, 8, planted seedlings alongside his family on behalf of United Methodist Church. The family, including Jack’s father, Pastor Christian DeMent plans to donate whatever they grow to the Fresh Start Saturdays program that offers food and other items to anyone experiencing homelessness.

At the opposite end of the lot, Jaden Swindell, 6 dug in the dirt under his mother and grandmother’s watchful eyes, working through the variety of starter plants and berry shrubs intended for his family’s garden beds.

Just on the other side of the fence near the Swindell plot, small trees stood in temporary plywood containers, waiting for their ideal location.

The trees, Richardson said, were donated by San Diego Gas and Electric as part of their Healthy Communities Fruit Tree Program that aims to supply locally grown fruit for free to anyone in the community who would like to pick a fresh snack. Richardson smiled and said although they have not yet been planted, they are another part of what makes the garden an asset to the whole community and not just those who actively maintain a garden bed.

She also said the garden itself is geared toward the age-friendly focus of the Livable La Mesa project that emphasizes multi-generational participation. Additionally, many older, established gardeners, she said, have “fabulous gardens at home but also have a plot here to participate with the community” and pass along their knowledge.

Grant funding for the project came from The San Diego Foundation and the San Diego chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects as well as sponsorships from EDCO, The Cushman Family Foundation, La Mesa Sunrise Rotary club and Coldwell Banker West’s Laurie MacDonald, who is also president of La Mesa Park and Recreation Foundation.