Village Matters

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Community Spirit Treasured

By Ann Christoph

I was chatting with Bill Blackburn, husband of the late Kathleen Blackburn, two-term councilmember and mayor, and his sister Betsy at the South Laguna Community Garden Park last Saturday.

Neighbor and fellow gardener Jeannie Richardson had organized the “Country Fair.” Artists brought their creations—jewelry, paintings, handmade crafts. Valerie Garcia taught printmaking by showing uncertain “just lookers” that their greeting cards could feature a colorful original design done by them right then and there. Robin Jones, “Honey Girl,” offered honey of various flavors, depending on what the bees were eating—the taste changes with the location and the season. The Four Stringerz ukulele duo strummed in the morning and the Garden Band enchanted us all afternoon with their base, guitars and vocals. Doug Miller joined in with his creative violin—how does he know just how to embellish what the rest of the band is playing?

It was sunny with a cool breeze. There were balloons, banners and colorful tents. Smiling people kept streaming through, enjoying the day, the garden and the activity.

As Bill, Betsy and I talked a bit, fellow gardener Carly Sciacca walked close by. Should I introduce her to Bill and Betsy? She was close enough to hear me but far away enough not to be part of the conversation if I didn’t reach out. I made a perfunctory introduction wondering if there was any particular reason why these people should meet. When she heard the name “Blackburn” Carly focused. “Are you related to the Camron Blackburn Scholarship?” “Yes, Camron was my daughter…” Bill explained. “I received your scholarship! 1993! You should know how much it meant to me,” Carly’s eyes were brimming with tears.

Bill was so taken with this unexpected witnessing of how his and Kathleen’s gesture to commemorate their daughter had made such a difference in Carly’s life.

Later he wrote, “Our intent for Camron’s scholarship was to help the girls with education so that they could enjoy a productive life. Carly certainly fits our dreams and helps keep Camron’s and Kathleen’s spirit alive. I truly believe our spirits live on. Laguna is a very special place with wonderful people that help each other.”

This poignant, perhaps life-changing encounter is just the most recent in many that have flowed from enjoying community and working at the Garden Park. The Garden provides a space with a feeling of relaxation and creativity that is a catalyst for unexpected and amazing things to happen.

In the upper garden, Gayle Joliet was showing samples of a children’s book that she and her husband Tom wrote and illustrated. They are responsible for the creation of the Garden Elf, a topiary mounded elf face that appears to be emerging from the hillside. The elf became the inspiration for the book, “Alani and the Giant Kelp Elf,” a “mostly true story” based in the garden and the nearby kelp forest. Alani, the main character, is modeled on Carly’s daughter.

Tom is the ukulele player and leader of the Garden Band, which got started after a day of building garden boxes. He and Tony Bisson sat at the picnic table with their guitars and began testing out tunes and techniques. Now the band has five members who not only play for garden events, but for other benefits, donating their compensation to the garden.

This year the community will be celebrating the South Laguna Community Garden Park’s 10th anniversary. Built by volunteers with the help of donations, the garden gets more beautiful and appreciated each year. One big problem still looms—acquiring the site. The city has committed funds and garden supporters have raised a significant amount. But more is needed. Can you help? Go to for more information or to make a donation.

Bringing us all together at gardens and community projects is how we sustain and relish the Laguna spirit we all treasure.

Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and member of the City Council.

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