TEMPLE — If you’re not looking for the unassuming, fenceless garden along Saulsbury Drive, you might miss it. However, what’s happening in that garden has provided many residents with fun, food, flowers and friendships for decades.
Saulsbury Community Garden at 2130 Saulsbury Drive has provided small lots of land, about an eighth of an acre each, since the mid-1970s for people to grow their own vegetables, herbs, fruit and whatever else strikes their fancy.
The garden supports about 65 plots, and anyone who is interested can rent one for $50 a year. Most are open for rental in February, but some plots become available periodically throughout the year.
The garden is a cooperative partnership between Temple’s Parks and Leisure Services Department and the Saulsbury Community Gardeners.
“People can plant anything they want — as long as it’s legal,” joked John Asbury, who oversees the land.
In return for their rental fees, which pay for water, the gardeners are supplied with everything except plants, seeds and fertilizer.
Water spigots and hoses are scattered among the plots.
Drivers on Saulsbury Drive who stop their cars by the garden’s faded, hand-painted sign depicting a packet of seeds will see clusters of plots stretching away from the road and divided by narrow, foot-worn dirt paths.
Almost any growing thing in season seems to be somewhere in the garden: still-green tomatoes and pumpkins, sunflowers hovering 7 feet above the earth and young melons, their vines woven among curved trellises taller than the sunflower plants.
This year has produced fine crops because of the rains, Asbury said.
He described some of the gardens’ guidelines.
“We discourage pesticides, but they’re not banned,” he said. “We enjoy people coming to visit, but it’s not a free garden to pick from.”
Saulsbury truly does support a community of gardeners, he said. People renting plots usually gather for two potluck picnics a year, in the spring and fall. Everyone brings snacks, drinks or a covered dish.
“Our garden is a friendly place,” he said.
Roger Swaim has been gardening at Saulsbury for more than a decade, since he retired from his job. He began with one plot, gradually working his way up to seven.
Now, he sells some of his fresh, organic produce Wednesday mornings during the Scott & White Farmers Market on South 31st Street in front of the hospital complex.
“It’s a way to get healthy food back into the community,” he said.
Swaim said he has grown just about everything in his plots.
This season, he has tomatoes, cucumbers and various squash, among other goods.
He nurtures his crops with organic fertilizer and encourages the other gardeners to do the same.
His advice for beginners is to hang in there and learn from the other gardeners.
He has seen some people rent plots, then become discouraged and give up.
“Gardening is hard work, but I thoroughly enjoy it,” he said.
Some of Saulsbury’s other gardeners are setting up stands at the farmers market, along with Swaim. Although he sells some of his produce, he keeps plenty of it for himself.
“I love to see things grow, and I love to eat my own vegetables,” he said.
Those who would like to rent a plot at Saulsbury Community Garden may call Asbury at 254-773-0923.
The garden needs people to donate the following equipment front tine tiller, a wood chipper, rakes and water hoses.