Lucy Neely: Paradise and the Parking Lot

The Gardens Project

This is a tale of transformation and renewal – an empty parking lot to community garden story…

Not so very long ago, in the magical valley of Ukiah, just North of the Myers Dentistry building and just West of the Ford dealership, there sat a quarter acre parking lot that had been unused and neglected for decades. The land beneath the asphalt yearned for a purpose.

Lynda Myers, owner of the lot and the building next to it, listened to the lot’s yearning and felt motivated to call Miles Gordon, Project Coordinator of The Gardens Project, in July 2009. She said, “Miles, I want to turn this parking lot into a community garden.” Miles replied, “That sounds like it has potential. We’ll look into it.”

In August, three AmeriCorps volunteers arrived to The Gardens Project in Ukiah and started looking earnestly into the possibility of turning that empty lot into a garden. In November, they canvassed apartment buildings in the neighborhood, assessing whether there was interest in a community garden. There was interest, and that weekend twelve excited gardeners-to-be stood in the middle of that empty lot, dreaming a transformation.

The soil under the asphalt was tested for contaminants of folly past. It was clean. Throughout the winter and into early Spring of this year, The Gardens Project worked with Kim Jordan and others in the planning department of the City of Ukiah to define the language and conditions of the permitting process for a community garden on private land in Ukiah, since this had never been done before. We hammered it out and obtained the first permit for such a garden. It was time to take out the asphalt, which fortunately was quite thin and crumbly. A front loader scraped off the asphalt and top few inches of soil in a few hours.

The California Conservation Corps of Ukiah donated their entire Corps to The Gardens Project on April 22, Earth Day, and twenty of those Corps members went to work on the Washington Ave. garden, trenching and laying irrigation, pick-axing the hard packed ground and sifting out thousands of rocks.

The neighborhood noticed the transformation that was happening. When the garden opened its gates to the public in late April, all forty one plots were claimed by eager gardeners within two weeks – people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the space or resources to have a garden. The gardeners prepared their garden beds, installed drip irrigation, lay cardboard and woodchips in the paths, held meetings and organized to create a productive, safe community space. And, of course, they planted their garden beds.

Less than two months after the asphalt came out, tomatoes, peppers, squash, flowers, herbs, peas, cactus, tomatillos, corn, and more are thriving. The Gardens Project invites and encourages you to come take a look at this garden at 168 Washington Ave., North of the Myers Dentistry building. It is a beautiful site to behold. To see pictures of this transformation, go to

We at The Gardens Project are eager to apply what we learned during this process to the development of other community gardens, and there is a need for more of these gardens. There are currently waiting lists at every community garden in Ukiah. 41 plots filled up in less than two weeks at the newest garden. People are hungry for the chance to dig in to the earth and have the satisfaction of growing their own fresh, healthy food.

Here’s something to chew on: The Gardens Project needs access to land to create these spaces, especially in the North and South ends of Ukiah. If you have a lead on a plot of land that could be turned into a community garden, please let us know by calling Miles Gordon at 462 – 2596 x 103 or emailing

One Comment

In these times, when bad news seems to flow unimpeded like the oil beneath the gulf, this is one of the most encouraging things to be reported in quite a while. And it’s an already accomplished fact, not just wishful thinking. May many more such projects blossom forth.