By Maggie Kolk, SuSol Board Secretary

Maggie Kolk is our board secretary, and she and her husband, Jack, oversee Avant Garden in Benicia. Maggie is currently working on her Master Gardener certification, and wrote this blog for the UCCE Master Gardeners’ Under the Solano Sun, where it was first published. We loved this story of connection at Avant Garden so much that we are republishing it here with Maggie’s permission. We join Maggie in inviting you to visit Avant Garden!

“I would love to have some of that beautiful chard” a small voice called out as I was locking the shed at Avant Garden, where I volunteer as the garden coordinator. The sun was setting over the Carquinez Strait, the infamous Benicia wind was picking up as the temperature was quickly dropping. I wanted to lock up and get home. When I looked up, I recognized a slight, elderly woman pushing her poodle in a dog stroller. I had seen her many times before and always smiled and said hello, but she never acknowledged my greeting. “I would be happy to gather some for you,” I called out as I walked toward the garden fence to talk with her. She shook her head and touched her right ear. As I got closer, she said, again pointing to her ear, “I can’t hear, I’m deaf.” Well, that explained why she never returned my greeting! Leaning over the fence, I was close enough for her to read my lips. I again offered to gather some of the garden’s chard for her. I explained that at Avant Community Garden, in addition to individually “owned” members’ raised beds, we also plant a “share plot” where we grow veggies for the Benicia community, and she was more than welcome to share in our bounty. She gladly accepted and I gathered a bunch of beautiful crisp red and yellow striped chard, bagged it, and handed it to her.

In a lovely British accent, she then proclaimed that what I had just done by giving her the chard was the highlight of her day. “You see, what is happening in Ukraine has brought back so many terrible memories.” With tears in her eyes, she went on to explain that as a child in London she lived through the Nazi bombing known as the Blitz and had spent days underground with her family trying to survive. She was about to celebrate her 89th birthday and she could not believe that she lived to see the horrors of war in Europe again. But the beautiful chard … she would go home and call her family in the UK and tell them what a wonderful gift she had just received. As she parted (yes, I had tears in my eyes now) with her little dog and bag of Swiss chard, I asked her name (Julia) and assured her that any time she saw me in the garden she was welcome to stop by for a chat, chard or any other goodie we might have growing at Avant Garden … and she does! That day, Julia herself was a gift to me. For the last five years that I have been volunteering as garden coordinator, I never know who or what gift will present itself, but I know I will be surprised and grateful.

The share plot soil has been prepared and amended, the tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and basil planted, the drip lines secured and the timer set. It won’t be long before the zucchini is ready for harvest and we can begin sharing the summer bounty with Julia and the others in our community. Avant, one of two Benicia Community Gardens, is located on First & D Streets in Benicia and welcomes visitors to stop by to enjoy our lovely garden, relax under the oak tree and chat with our neighbor’s very friendly chickens.