Village Matters: The Gift of Surprises

By Ann Christoph.

I had just washed my hair and was at the beginning stages of getting ready to go to work when the phone rang, “Channel 9 is down at the garden. They’re going to do a news story on saving it!” After a quick blow-dry, off I went to check it out.  Yes, indeed there was a reporter interviewing Morrie Granger and the “Coffee Dogs.”  Bright eyed and enthusiastic, she wanted to hear the garden story—to be shared with metropolitan LA on the evening news. All evening long the story repeated—interspersed with video shots of the garden—and tales of the generosity of the property owner, volunteers building the garden, the “For Sale” signs going up, our fundraising campaign to buy the property… the city’s recent rejection of our plea for park funds to help fund the purchase.  A compelling story travels and surprising echoes are coming back.

The “Coffee Dogs” are another surprise. This is a group of neighbors that meets every morning for coffee, and because their dogs are members too, they named themselves the Coffee Dogs. Café Vienna was their regular haunt. When it closed, what was to be done?  The group decided to move to the picnic table at the garden. Now they bring their own coffee and treats.  Every morning there they are, chatting as they overlook the ever-changing plantings.

Three years ago when we cleared the weeds and started the garden it seemed like a simple project: install planter boxes, grow vegetables. But then surprising things happened. Geoff and Julie Beckham donated a shed. Many other donors contributed money and materials, such as redwood, boulders, plants.  Smiling people showed up to help on Saturdays, week after week. It was like a mid-western barn-raising in spirit.  The garden became more and more beautiful.

Did we ever envision how many people would enjoy the garden in so many different ways?  The garden has become a park, where visitors stroll, sit, learn about plants and gardening, chat and get to know each other.

The weekend before last we had our annual December potluck, open to the public. There were many new faces. One of them was Cindy Obrand. She just happened by on her way back from a hike.  “I have a bluegrass show every Saturday at 10 on the new radio station. I’d like to interview you about the garden on my show next week! I’m Ida Mae on the air,” she explained.

Carly Andrews, the leader of the children’s garden, was standing near by and quickly Ida Mae and Carly were collaborating on how children and parents could be part of the interview.

So last Saturday we were down at the new Laguna Beach radio station KX 93.5. Who knew we needed a radio station?

It was a real studio with a sound proof room and lots of important looking equipment.  We got to put on headphones and speak into the mike. “How do bees help plants make food?” queried Ida Mae. “Pollinate!” 5-year-old Jack Borella spoke right up.

We learned that Evan and Julia Henry had a bee project where they recorded all the bees they sighted.  Evan concluded with a plea for buying the garden site so that kids after him could enjoy the garden the same way he has.

We told the garden story, about how, over 10 years ago, Ali Taghavi, who ran a vegetable stand on the corner of Eagle Rock and Coast Highway, decided to build a garden on the upper part of that same property where our garden is now. Who knew we needed a garden? We didn’t. Not until Ali and his friends showed us how delightful and community-building it could be. After a few heartwarming events at the garden we were hooked.

Then the land ownership changed and Ali had to remove the garden. A chain link fence went up. How could we create a garden again? Morrie Granger and the South Laguna Civic Association asked the owners of every vacant property for permission to use their land temporarily for a garden. Finally the site of Ali’s original garden was sold again and the new owner said yes. From then on, with volunteers, donations, creativity and enthusiasm the garden grew to the lovely spot we see today. Now the lot is for sale again and we’re trying to raise the funds to make it permanent.

Who knew we needed a garden, or a radio station…or LOCA, or Laguna Tunes, or…  We’re all adding something surprising to the mix that’s our community. When we keep looking at the good side we relish the gift of surprises. Who knows what wonderful thing could happen next?


Landscape architect Ann Christoph keeps a plot in the South Laguna garden.

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