Dead Zones, Weed Nests, and Manure Mishaps: How Gardeners Cultivate Collective Place in Eagle Heights Community Gardens
The garden plots of Eagle Heights Community Gardens stretch for eight acres up a hillside on the west side of the University of Wisconsin at Madison's campus. Individual gardeners shape much of the space in this allotment-style community garden: their plots join together into a cohesive landscape. Bent water spigots, flowering Canada thistle, and trailing butternut squash vines fill the Gardens. At the beginning of the growing season you can see all the way up the brown hillside, where debris from last year provides hiding places for multitudes of mice. By the middle of August, masses of vegetation hide gardeners who assiduously tend their plots, weeding and harvesting. Everything is brown again in October, plants slowly dying amidst thriving cool-weather spinach and kale. Residents of Eagle Heights began gardening near their apartments in 1960. They arranged for plowing of a common space that they then filled with personal gardens. The Gardens you can walk through today, however, are not the same as those cultivated years ago. Gardeners continuously modify areas of shared concern by redefining what they hold collectively and therefore what they must manage together. This history of Eagle Heights Community Gardens probes how human beings define collective resources and manage them: a process that depends not only on social beliefs but also on our tangible interactions within a landscape. This is a narrative of how collective responsibilities in the Gardens change through time and how they are affected by cultural beliefs and the tangible work of cultivation. This also is a story of how a group of people navigates the boundaries between individuals and communities, between one physical space and another. Places and communities are always personal: they physically exist, yet we bring our own experiences and interpretations to them. I am, therefore, present in the following history. My argument is that what gardeners hold as common changes with shifts in people?s perceptions of the Gardens: it will be helpful, then, for you to see what place of the Gardens is for me. As I worked on this project, I was slowly drawn into the Gardens of today: participating in the Garden Committee and the decisions it makes; getting to know the people whose invisible labor maintains common spaces; forming friendships with those around me. The Gardens swallowed me, so I will always be present in the following stories: in my descriptions of how I physically experience the Gardens, in the questions I asked of previous gardeners, in what I decide to include and omit. I cannot remove myself and I don't believe that will hinder this history at all.