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The community garden at Wilkes Park in Spring Park has provided opportunities for space-crunched green thumbs since 2016. (Submitted photo)

Even in the best of all possible worlds we must cultivate our garden - or so says Voltaire. And a little garden - for flowers, for vegetables, for herbs and spices - is something that is easy to take for granted.

But while the garden of Voltaire’s Candide was about focusing on oneself, the community garden at Wilkes Park is about focusing on others, from the opportunity it provides for gardeners to the bounty it often yields for those at WeCAN or the Westonka Food Shelf.

Marlys Olson said she was one of the first to sign up for Spring Park’s community garden when the city opened it to the public at Wilkes Park in 2016. Olson, who lives in a condo with only northern exposure to her patio, said she was in need of a place to grow her vegetables.

“To me, gardening is a relaxing time to be in my own space. Some people like to read, some people like to do sports or exercise. I like to play with the soil, watch things grow, reap the benefits,” she said.

She’s not the only one.

“The community garden really started as a pet project of Megan Pavot,” said Dan Tolsma, city administrator for Spring Park. Tolsma said the germ of Pavot’s idea was her own living situation – an apartment – that made having a garden of any kind a non-starter.

Pavot, who was serving on Spring Park’s city council until her death last November, saw that many people in the city, like Marlys Olson in her condo, may be in the same situation as she: wanting a garden but not being able to have one.

“It really started as something either for those people who live in apartments and couldn’t have a garden, or even for those in a single-family home who didn’t have enough space,” said Tolsma. “That’s where it really took off.”

The city signed off on the project in February 2016 with a $10,500 contract to Norling’s for 12 planters at Wilkes Park. That year filled to capacity, and three more planters were added for 2017.

“I find myself going over every day and checking the growth, pulling weeds,” said Jennie Hawkins, who has had the plot at “lucky number 13” for the past three years. Hawkins said she’s tried kale, tomatoes, edible flowers, carrots, beets and green beans as well as herbs like parsley and rosemary.

More than that, “I have made new friends and shared produce with other people there,” she said. “I simply love it; for me, I can lay my troubles down in the dirt.”

The garden at Wilkes opened for applications March 9, and the plots, at $25 each, are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis, with preference given to those who, like Hawkins and Olson, have had plots the previous year and would like to come back. 

The city will  open the garden to non-residents starting April 1, but if previous years are any indication, the garden will reach capacity with Spring Park’s own residents.

Community gardens work in many places, but Tolsma said certain conditions in Spring Park made the city ideal for this type of project.

“We’re a little unique in that we have such a high proportion of apartments that it just made sense for us,” he said, once more referring to the limited opportunity for private gardens. Many of the city’s single-family homes, too, are crunched for space with the lots long and narrow, the trade-off for having more lots with Lake Minnetonka shoreline.

Other community gardens nearby include the one at Lake Minnetonka Shores senior living facility and the one at Bethel United Methodist Church in Mound. Bethel has operated its Giving Roots Of Westonka (GROW) community garden since 2011 and will start accepting applicants for this season March 15. 

Back at Wilkes, Spring Park’s Tolsma said the city was considering adding a memorial plaque to the community garden there sometime this summer as part of the city’s parks re-dedication, “Just to raise awareness of the garden and its origins, with all the work Megan put into it and the lasting impact that [the garden] will have.”

The city has already commissioned from the Westonka Historical Society three plaques, one for its city hall building and one each for its two major parks, Wilkes and Thor Thompson, for the re-dedication.

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