Part potting shed, part garden, part home, terra cotta pots of soil, containing seeds that never opened and seedlings toppled and drying, are scattered around the floor.  Sitting high on shelves in the kitchen, smaller pots in various sizes and colors are stacked, still filled with dirt.

Summer squash is growing, satisfied for now with the warm sunny window, staked with chopsticks and cotton string.  Sharing the dining table are containers of  black-eyed susan seedlings,  feeble and fragile, yet living, and what at last count is my 5th attempt at sunflowers to get past two inches tall before collapsing to their death. Some sort of soil rot, I read. This round is getting spritzed & watered with chamomile tea, to relax the rot and put it to sleep I guess. Too soon to tell if this will be the push they need.

I gave away almost all of last year’s pepper plants, my gardening space is vastly reduced, I  now have a narrow stretch on the landing that gets a significant lesser amount of sun.

I lost my garden space. I surrounded to the greater more persistent forces.

I had it to myself for a couple of years. There was no interest from anyone to place plants in the south facing balcony, one floor down from my apartment. In almost ten years, I had seen nothing on it besides an empty pot or two. I used to imagine setting up two camp chairs so I could hang out with a book or a friend. It’s about all that would fit in there. However, I chose to plant.

I swung over the wide sill and experimented until I had flourishing bougainvillaea,Thai peppers, basil, lavender and random flowers. My avocado grown from the pit, thrived. I spent hours each week, tending, repotting and often harvesting.

I suspect some of the tenants thought I was a bit mad and over doing it. But once you get some planting success, it’s hard to stop. And why? Urban gardeners are the new purse dogs. Besides, I loved it. I had researched gardens in small spaces, fire escape gardens (I tried that first and was asked to remove it after one tenant expressed fear for his life in case of fire.)

I mentioned to everyone I saw to help themselves. I put dishes of hot peppers and basil in the entrance inside the gate. I lugged my three gallon watering pot down the stairs and over the ledge, sometimes four times a shot, when all the plants were in peak form.

Last year, new tenants expressed interest in putting some flowers there. I felt guilty because I had filled every inch, with the addition of yellow bell peppers. Because his window overlooked the balcony, he said he wanted to look at something pretty.

At that point, the balcony was filled with all shades of green, red hot peppers, fuchsia bougainvillaea and small but firm yellow peppers. I felt defensive, standing in the midst of it all, dirt smudged, watering and pruning. Was this not beautiful? Did the other tenants not like it?

He wanted flowers and he had that right.  I said firmly and what I hope was kindly, ‘I already have all this stuff in here.”

They squeezed 2 tiny pots of yellow flowers in and then gave up. I moved them where they could see them and watered them often but I sensed they were pissed off.  I knew I would have to pare down next spring. To all things a season.

January brought a new tenant and my gardening refuge, hobby and passion grew into a power struggle over space and control. And pots. Apparently she is an Organizer.  She saw Great Things for our Community and put lots of notes on the board in the lobby expressing her vision of  us  helping each other through life’s ups and downs, sharing and lending things when needed and becoming a Real Community. Apparently, to her keen eye, we were not living up to our potential, although true and fast friends lived there and neighbors had proved themselves over and over. I wondered what others thought of this.

She invited people for coffee and potluck  to further discuss the Community via a note on the board in our entry way.

I had run into her in the laundry room. She folded her clothes straight from the dryer while I waited to shift my clothes from the washer into same dryer. We spoke pleasantly enough. She asked if I lived above her and I said no, I’m on the street side. She said something about the garden on the balcony, “I heard it’s Cynthia’s.”

“I’m Cynthia,” said I.

“You really like peppers,” she said. As in, is that the only species of plant you can grow? Have you not the Gardener’s Soul and Courage? Are you simply an Amateur?

I was caught me off guard. Nothing positive about what I had done, no questions, no compliments, just the implication that I was a pepper loving mutant. I smiled and said, “I really do.”


I don’t know who, if anyone, went to her Saturday afternoon potluck. I had considered it was possible that others thought she was incredible and her presence long overdue, exactly what our building needed, someone to make us into a Community. I personally thought Saturday at 5 was an awkward time. Young people sleeping so they can go clubbing at 11pm, parents feeding or bathing their toddlers. Me, recovering from the Saturday cyclone of cleaning, laundry and some sort of self betterment like yoga or conditioning my hair for my Saturday night which usually began at 7.

I personally thought she was daft with too much time on her hands. I was very soon to learn that she was quite insidious indeed and was positioning herself into the balcony and attempting complete possession  of my many large pots that had held bushy happy growing plants.  She was planning nothing less  than a coup d’etat.

A few mornings later, on my way to work, I read an invitation on the board, decorated with Windows Image Art flowers and gardens, to plan the Community Garden on the balcony.  Hello Gardeners! Everyone was invited to come for coffee on Sunday morning to discuss. Everyone would suggest what they wanted, all  would be welcome to everything that was grown. She he was an experienced gardener (had dirt under her fingernails, haha) and would love to share her knowledge.

I  felt stinging on my cheek. Had she just slapped me or was I being overly sensitive? I, the sole gardener of the balcony had no knowledge of gardening? (I actually don’t. I buy seeds, put them in pots and when they sprout, moved them to various positions on the balcony. It was a gamble, fun, absorbing, gratifiying. I did well. Knowledge of gardening, no, experience, yes.

The next note a week or a few days later, updated the Community on how well progress was going on the Community Garden. It would have daffidils, basil (broad leaf), ETC More suggestions were welcome! If anyone had any extra pots to donate, please leave them at her door. If the owner of the pot wanted them back, please put your name on the pot. If anyone had any extra seeds, please give them to her! If anyone had any extra soil, please donate.

Had she come upstairs and seen my bags of potting soil outside my back door? Did she

knock on door, dead plants Sunday morning–

I don’t know who went for coffee. The tenant who wanted to put out flowers told me  he couldn’t make it and would leave a note on her door. I saw him when I was in the balcony, lifting and handing my potted plants to my boyfriend who would take most of them to his home to put in the backyard. I kept a few to put on the narrow landing above. The tenant seemed genuinely surprised and asked if I was taking everything out.

As it was the end of January, my garden was in it’s winter slumber. I began feeling pressured to remove at least half my pots and plants. But it was winter. How soon did the Community need me out of there?

Notes appeared listing what would be in the Community Garden and the Rules and Procedures that would be followed.