It’s late March and bees buzz amongst the daffodils and hellebores and falling blossoms decorate the garden entryway. We are tilling soil, fermenting compost tea, and planting seeds. Gardeners are building trellises made from pallets, bamboo, and string. By late summer these structures will be heavy with hanging cucumbers, gourds, ku gua, and long beans. The onset of spring is a beautiful and hopeful time for us in the garden community.
Tucked between I-5 and S. Main St on a hidden hillside, the Danny Woo Community Garden is an urban sanctuary. As the only green open space in the Chinatown International District and Little Saigon neighborhoods, this 1.5-acre terraced garden is a peaceful respite for gardeners, neighborhood children, and visitors alike. Home to 15 chickens, 60+ fruit trees, and a children’s garden, it provides a nurturing space for many living things. It is most famous for the prolific cultivation of Asian vegetables grown by neighborhood gardeners.
One of the 78 gardeners who is already harvesting her spring crop is Su Juan Chen. Su Juan has short straight hair and bangs that cut across her face. She is a tiny woman who is active and youthful despite her 82 years.
In her garden plot Su Juan Chen harvests healthy chives. Her garden plot is on a high terrace and over-looks Nihonmachi, her apartment, and the rest of the C-ID. She takes the flyer I’m attempting to give her and begins folding the vegetables inside the papers to give to me. I try to refuse them but she insists, pushing two fat bundles into my hands. She doesn’t need them all, she indicates, and she is already planning to take some back to her home at International Terrace, which overlooks the garden. For Su Juan, gardening provides her with exercise and a social scene.
“The reason I garden is because I want to eat the organic plants I grew, and so I can eat healthy,” she says. “In addition, gardening is good exercise and meanwhile I can make friends with other gardeners and share gardening experience.”
Q&A with Lizzy Baskerville, garden manager, and Su Juan Chen, gardener
LB: How long have you been gardening at the Danny Woo Community Garden?
SJC: Since 2006
LB: Where are you from?
SJC: China, Guangdong
LB: Where do you live?
LB: What are you planning to grow this year?
SJC: Peas, greens, melons, green onions
LB: What else do you do besides gardening?
SJC: Nothing, but hang out with Henry [InterIm CDA’s community organizer]!
LB: What do you hope for the future of the garden?
SJC: More land and no worries. I want people to be more peaceful so there is no reason for fences to separate our gardens.