Return to Cleveland Community Garden

CC Garden

When I decided Sunday to return to the Cleveland Community Garden about which I’d written last spring in conjunction with a book review, what transpired was not what I’d been expecting. In my mind I was arriving bearing gifts–a large plastic bag full of sheaves of arugula branches, each bearing multiple dried pods of delicate seeds. I wasn’t sure what reception I would get to the idea of arugula among a primarily Hispanic group of gardeners, but I was willing to offer them in the spirit of one gardener to another, knowing I was introducing the possibility of a winter of vital and yummy salad greens. I pulled into a tree covered dirt parking area about a half block from the gardens.

Cleveland gardens

I decided to walk first to the home of a woman living close by who I knew had family members involved in the garden. I found her at home with her family. She remembered me, as did her small daughter, Perla, whom I invited to accompany me to the gardens, which she shyly accepted, possibly intrigued when she heard me ask mom for permission to photograph her! This must have been it, in fact, as I stepped across the street to shoot a flowering tree and when I returned mom was braiding Perla’s hair into two long braids. I found this very endearing.


The only folks on site when we entered the garden were a young man and his young wife who had come to work in their garden plots, which I soon learned were spectacular. After offering the couple several branches of the arugula, I indicated my interest in what they were growing.


Enter the surprise! As I walked around and admired their harvests I realized that beyond the tomatoes I clearly really didn’t know what I was looking at! It seemed there was almost nothing in this abundantly green jungle of a garden that would find its corresponding brother or sister in my garden! Closer inspection revealed various chiles, not something I have ever cultivated, and I quickly realized here was a real opportunity for some learning. Fortunately the young couple was happy to oblige and over the next 40 minutes or so, humbly and lovingly took me under their wings and walked me around and educated me on what a Mexican gardener has growing happily in his garden!


Lupita, the wife, picked a tomatillo for me, and peeled off its husk revealing the small green tomato creature inside, which I noted immediately was slightly sticky. She patiently explained that they cook the tomatillos first in water, then chop and use as the primary ingredient in their green salsa.

chile guero
Chile guero

Beginning to enjoy the lesson, they took turns pulling back the leaves of various plants to reveal various chiles hiding underneath, then teaching me the name and often the use as well. The chile guero is not that hot they assured me. On the other end of the spectrum is the chile arbol, a small black pointed chile that grew straight up from its branches. Look carefully!

Chile arbol
Chile arbol

Next was a chile I knew: chile poblano, which you probably know is used to make chiles rellenos, which I used to make when Antonia was a little girl.

Chile poblano
Chile poblano

Turning a corner I mercifully saw something I recognized–some kind of bean! It turned out to be rosa de castillo. Now that was new! Lupita shyly and kindly helped with their display.

Rosa de Castillo beans
Rosa de castillo

At this point Lupita drew me to an adjacent garden, marked with this little hanging flag.


In this section I found foods I was more familiar with and delighted to see! Lupita pulled back some leaves to reveal this tempting watermelon (sandia in Spanish).


And close by were these familiar melons.


Lastly Martin pointed out a raggedy plant at the edge of a bed, looking for all the world like a weed. However, I recognized it as a plant Jack at the Farmer’s Market had just introduced me to–purslane, or, in Spanish, verdolagos. We would do well to learn to include in our diets.


Being guided about by this lovely young quiet couple I became aware I was now fully engaged in the kind spirit of the Mexican people that I have been blessed to know and appreciate during many years of my life. This young couple, who spoke little English, took time out of their Sunday to help a stranger. They recognized my interest and sincerity and took that into their hearts and responded in kind. They are so representative of the kindhearted Mexican people I have met in my travels, and I felt incredibly blessed to be spending this time with them. As our time to part came upon us, they returned to their car parked nearby and suddenly were gently offering me a bag of vegetables which they had obviously picked just prior to my arrival. I graciously and heartfully accepted, with tears in my eyes. Here’s what Martin and Lupita sent home with me on Sunday afternoon:

A full bowl. A full heart.

Muchissimas gracias por venir. Que te vaya bien.

Besos y abrazos,
Catarina xoxoo


17 Responses to “Return to Cleveland Community Garden”

  1. ¡¡Que bonita, mamacita!! ¡Fotos encantadoras y una gran historia! 🙂

    Love you,

  2. Gracias, mi hijita. 🙂

    Un abrazo,

  3. What a wonderful experience. I didn’t realize they had community gardens in Cleveland. My mom and siblings still live up there. That was a very nice family that you got to meet & how generous they were with their veggies.

  4. Welcome, Perennial Gardener! That was the curious thing. The book I reviewed really did tell a story set in Cleveland, but this garden is in CA. 🙂 It was just an interesting synchronicity. Yes, I felt very fortunate to meet these lovely young people. Thanks for the visit. Kathryn xoxo

  5. Dear Kathryn,
    What a lovely story! This is so important to meet people that are emotional and positive. I remember my similar experience when I had a chance for the first time to meet Turkish people not as a tourist, but friend of a friend. Oh my! what a blessing it was. The positive emotions they surrounded me with were like turning back to embrio period 🙂 very very unique.
    Picture of the kid is very sweet.

  6. Hi, Ewa! Yes, you totally get it! Real folks with open hearts, able to recognize and respond to that immediately in others. Your experience of the Turkish people sounds very special, and very nurturing. Love, Kathryn xox

  7. Kathryn, first, thank you for your kind comment on my blog. I love your telling of this adventure. I agree that most of the Mexican people I’ve met have been gracious and kind beyond compare. Many of the people who work for our paving company are Hispanic, and I’m grateful for the world they’ve opened up to our family. The Diva, my oldest daughter, goes to a high school which is integrated with white, black, Hispanic and Asian children. She has learned more Spanish in one year of attendance there than she learned in all of her schooling. An unexpected bonus, don’t you think?

    We use a lot of Mexican flavors in our Oklahoma cooking now. It tastes so good. Thank you for this fun post.~~Dee

  8. Hi, Dee, I’m happy you shared your positive experience in Oklahoma. Yes, absolutely, it’s an “added bonus” to be exposed, particularly as a child, to being multi-cultural. This big ole’ land of ours is SO big it can tend to appear like a monocultural planet. And this is dangerous for our children, and ultimately, our world. In Europe children travel for three or four hours and they are in another country, with another language, possibly another religion and another worldview. That’s true in America to a smaller more subtle degree. But it doesn’t give kids the stereophonic experience they need to know just how many paths there are to the mountain. 🙂 Thanks, Dee. Hugs, Kathryn xoxo

  9. Our local electric coop newspaper carried an article recently about community gardens around the state. I had no idea this was going on. Our state has elderly in very rural areas and need the produce. Such a wonderful idea. Your photos are splendid, as always, and I find I really look long at them. Such a lovely photo of a girl in braids. Thanks, Kathryn.

  10. Hi, CurtissAnn, Yes, I can imagine that increasingly folks will be returning to growing their own food. We kind of threw out the baby with the bathwater when we embraced the industrial age and disconnected from the many benefits of being an agrarian society (to put it MILDLY). 🙂 Thank you for the lovely feedback on the photos. I so enjoy capturing the beauty that is our lives. Kathryn xoxo

  11. los regalos del jardín.
    I just loved this post. It moved me.
    The image of the girl with the lovely braids is so memorable and joyous.
    She is the sunflower, and the sunflower is the girl facing the sun.
    That is one of those times which everything comes together( you seem to have those kind of moments, perhaps because you let them arrive naturally and gently,you listen and you welcome them)
    I thought it was so interesting how you showed people were planting things that resonated for them, their cuisine and culture. Plants that their families had planted so it has meaning spiritually.
    You also showed here that people also plant to share, to connect with others.
    What else is the better gift?
    Thank you, Kathryn, for sharing this.

  12. You were blessed wtih a most ‘bountiful’ day, dear Kathryn. Thank you for sharing this rich tale.

  13. Hi, Philip–that is such a lovely thought, that people plant what they have learned in their families, and how this carries on their traditions and culture (and thus their earthly spiritual roots). Thank you for your insightful comments, Philip! Warmly, Kathryn xoxo

  14. Welcome, Joey! It was most precious. I think that bowl of veges reflects the bounty so beautifully. It’s now a fave. Hugs, Kathryn xoxo

  15. I am looking for chile quero seeds. Some say they are Cascabella, Caloro, or Santa Fe Grandes, but I am not sure. Where can I purchase chile guero seeds.

  16. Hi, Cora, I don’t know. Have you tried Seed Savers? Kathryn

  17. […] Cleveland Community Garden, OhioTomatillos, green chiles, corn… this garden has everything it takes to make some seriously tasty, […]

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