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‘Tis the season to start growing

Silver Spring gardener begins prepping for spring

Created date

February 26th, 2013

When Levern Allen moved to . target="_blank">Riderwood, Erickson Living s community in Silver Spring, Md., in June 2003, she had no intention of continuing the gardening she had done at every house she had ever lived in since the mid-1960s. In August of that year, however, she saw an ad on the community bulletin board stating, Prime Acreage! At first she resisted, even though the opportunity appealed to her. But she soon caved. After visiting the garden lots on-site at Riderwood, she claimed one that had been occupied by an experienced gardener; she was hooked right away. Along with her own lot, Levern now cares for the community herb garden, one that offers fresh herbs to Riderwood residents at the pinch of two fingers. Levern originally intended for Riderwood chefs to access even more fresh herbs for the on-campus restaurants. However, regulations put a stop to that idea, so she started planting for her fellow neighbors to enjoy.

Manageable gardens

Levern moved to Riderwood because she was tired of dealing with a big house and a big lawn, which included her gardens, and the President s Day snow of 2003 was the straw that broke the camel s back. She moved soon after. She appreciates the gardens at Riderwood because they re more than manageable. Each 10- by 10-foot square allows community members to plant whatever they want be it for self-expression or, like Levern, for food. She classifies her own garden as a salad garden. In it, she grows things in small quantities that she can put on her salads lettuce, greens, tomatoes, and peppers are staples, but the rest of the bounty changes each year, and, of course, she can throw in some dill, basil, or parsley from the community herb garden. I don t grow things that have to be cooked, Levern laughs. Speaking of cooking, that s not something we do a lot of around here, she says. With all the amazing food offered at Riderwood, most residents stoves and ovens are only used on special occasions. But people will want fresh basil for tomato sandwiches or dill for salads, and with the herb garden, they don t have to go the grocery store and buy big quantities that may go bad and aren t as fresh. They can simply pick the amount they want.

Enjoying, creating life

Aside from the maintenance, which Levern takes care of herself, the herb garden is truly a community affair, and its benefits run community wide. We have followers now, Levern says, people who ask me, Do you have basil? Do you have dill? Aside from the practical nature of the gardens, there s also a spiritual one. A lot of people who don t garden enjoy going out there just to be there, Levern says. They either walk through or sit on the benches, breathing in the colors and the aromas the lavender and the eucalyptus from the herb garden wafting through the air. And for those of us who garden, we experiment with new and different things, Levern says. We re not trying to raise food to feed our families; we re just really enjoying our lives and what we can create in the gardens. Levern begins prepping the herb garden as soon as the weather gets warmer, usually in March, she says. She trims back perennials and pulls weeds. She clears the ground for fresh planting. She tends to plant a tight garden so that in the height of the growing season, she doesn t have to weed much. And the herbs don t need much water, so they do well in the height of the hot summer. The fresh herb growing season lasts from spring through early fall, she says, depending on the weather. Residents give her herbs that they ve divided, and occasionally she ll dry them in her one-bedroom, one-den, Georgetown-style apartment home so she can have access to them throughout the colder months. For Levern, taking care of the gardens has reignited a passion in her she thought she was ready to leave behind. Because she loves being outdoors, she s out in the gardens at least five days a week, picking, planting, humming, and enjoying life.