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Smell the roses--don't pick them 

Preserve the bounty of San Luis Obispo community gardens for everyone to enjoy

My son has a garden plot in Emerson Community Garden at the corner of Pismo and Nipomo streets in San Luis Obispo. Emerson Community Garden was recently named the second-best community garden in San Luis Obispo County by the New Times Readers’ Poll. Well, it actually is the best community garden, because the poll’s winner is a botanical garden—big difference.

In community gardens, individuals lease plots where they can raise whatever they want (within reason), and they are entitled to keep whatever they raise.

In a botanic garden, folks cultivate and tend plants according to an established theme. Funding for botanical gardens comes from grants, private donations, and fundraising activities. The botanical garden is staffed by volunteers. There are no veggies to harvest, and the volunteers in the garden generally can’t pick the flowers. The community can enjoy both kinds of gardens, but they are not supposed to take plant material (or anything else) from either—unless, of course, the botanical garden has one of their wonderful plant sales. Then the public can take samples, for a price.

I recently stopped at Emerson Community Garden one evening to drop off some fence material for a friend. As I was getting ready to leave the garden, I noticed a young lady with long, light-brown hair accompanied by a younger boy with a skateboard. She was leaving the garden with an armful of yellow roses. Knowing the lovely rose bush near my son’s plot and not recognizing the girl, I walked after her, finally catching up to her across Pismo Street from the garden.

“Do you have a plot in the garden?” I calmly asked her.

“Why, no” she replied.

“Well then, why did you steal those flowers?” I asked.

She answered: “I thought it was a community garden.”

“Those flowers are the property of the person who grew them,” I pointed out, no longer calm. “You stole them!” I yelled.

Quietly, but not totally cowed, the girl vowed, “I will never do it again.”

It is surprising to me the Emerson gardeners persist in maintaining their plots. You will find 39 plots leased by 39 gardeners, displaying 39 different growing styles. The gardeners have had their plants, pots, and tools stolen; their fruit and flowers picked; structures vandalized; and beds tromped on, but they continue to work the soil. They are a wonderful, eclectic group of individuals, and they are happy to share the sights and smells of their garden with the community—but not their tools and the fruits of their labors of love.

Emerson is one of four community gardens in San Luis Obispo. The other community gardens are at Broad Street near Lincoln (17 plots), Laurel Lane near Augusta (16 plots), and in Meadow Park at Rotary Garden (guess who built it?). The latter, the newest community garden, has 40 plots. Plots in these gardens occasionally become available when gardeners pass on or move on and occasionally when plots are neglected. It’s like Farmville: Don’t use it, and everything goes to, well, weeds, and that does not make the other gardeners happy. The base price for a plot is $24 per year. To determine the availability of garden plots in any of the community gardens, contact Amy Voorhies of San Luis Obispo Parks and Recreation at 781-7069 or

If you aren’t interested in owning a plot, you are invited to stop by the Emerson gardens and check out the different styles, meditate on the giant fish sculpture, or snack at the picnic table. It is a pretty, tranquil setting. If the gardeners are tending their plots, all the better; they are by and large a gregarious group and are proud of what they have accomplished in their plots and as a community of gardeners.

If you see an exceptionally tall gardener with a big smile, he is my son, and he really likes to talk about his garden and his work in the community areas of the garden. He’s sharp about plant identification, too. Just don’t try to pick any of his flowers or those of any other gardener (he knows them all). Remember the old adage, “like father, like son?” In this case, it’s true.

Wayne Mills belongs to Central Coast Cactus and Succulent Society and is an avid gardener at Emerson Community Garden. Send comments via the opinion editor at

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