At Westside Community Garden, green thumbs put their skills to use growing produce for themselves and others.
Story by Jennifer Grafiada Photo by Thomas Boyd
Tucked away off Roseburg’s well-traveled Harvard Avenue is the Westside Community Garden, a collection of rectangles of dirt and vegetation in various states of growth or dormancy. A meditation labyrinth invites passersby to take a quiet moment to themselves, and fruit trees promise pears and persimmons come fall.
This is where you will find Paul Ausbeck on “every day the weather is civilized.” Ausbeck tends his own plots and, as often as not, the plots of others. On a recent cool, but civilized afternoon, he was twisting out little dandelion clumps for an elderly gardener who was recently injured.
Ausbeck’s passion for backyard gardening began in 1963 when he was 10 years old, but remained latent for more than 22 years while he lived in apartments and worked for the Bureau of Land Management. Now retired, Ausbeck estimates he spends about 1,500 hours a year at Westside Community Garden.
While he may grumble a bit about his sore back, it seems he can’t keep himself from beautifying other areas needing a little weeding or watering.
“I’m trying to make the whole garden look good,” he says.
On a stroll through the garden, Ausbeck points out the lavender he recently transplanted and the culinary herb garden he has taken to caring for (the public can help themselves to reasonable amounts of culinary herbs and mint, as well as to the fruit trees when in season).
The garden was founded in 2012 as a way to give local residents a place to grow their own produce.
Of Ausbeck’s five plots, he uses one as a wildflower bed for pollinators and two to grow produce he donates to The Friendly Kitchen and Meals on Wheels of Roseburg, which provides food to senior citizens of Douglas County. With the remaining two, he gets “all the fresh produce my wife and I can use, plus a ton to share.” He also cans about 340 pounds of produce a year and has “a ginormous clump of rhubarb” that won first place at the Douglas County Fair two years in a row.
The Westside Community Garden was founded in 2012 by the United Methodist Church of Roseburg and the Umpqua Valley Disabilities Network as a way to give local residents a place to grow their own produce at a cost of $20 per year (which defrays watering costs). Through a partnership with Douglas County Master Gardeners, workshops on gardening are free and open to the public.
“I see the garden as a sanctuary,” says Chriset Palenshus, who was the garden coordinator from 2016-18. “Many people don’t have another place where they can go and tend the soil, plant seeds, help a plant grow and then get rewarded with at the end. In addition to providing nutrition, gardening can also relieve stress, help with depression and trauma and improve overall brain health.”
While funding has dried up for the coordinator position, the First United Methodist Church is looking for a volunteer to fill the role and is hoping to find grants to fund the position in the future.
After the Eastside Community Garden shut down last year, the Westside garden is one of the few in the county where people who are otherwise unable to grow their own produce can do so while being part of a supportive community. The gardens offer a place for people of all ages and abilities (some beds are even wheelchair accessible) to see the magic that can happen with a little water, sun, the right soil blend (see below) and a little TLC.
“It was astonishing to see the quantity and quality of the crops grown at the garden,” says Palenshus. There was such a transformation from a barren field to a thriving paradise of colorful and nutritious bounty.”
To inquire about garden plot availability or to apply for the volunteer garden coordinator position, contact the First United Methodist Church of Roseburg at email@example.com.
Ausbeck’s Spinach Salad
Ausbeck grows curly spinach leaves by the bushel “the size of dinner plates”
Tear up spinach leaves (don’t chop)
Shaved red onion
Crumbled feta cheese
Dusting of dried oregano
Garnish with grape tomatoes, kalamata olives
Paul Ausbeck’s Soil Blend
Kellogg Raised Bed and Potting Mix
Down to Earth bio fish fertilizer and bone meal (as a top dressing)