Until just over a month ago, the trip around the corner of 100 West and onto Walnut Lane took school kids, parents with strollers and anyone out for a stroll past a fenced-in lot covered with rocks and sticker bushes.
Today, thanks to the vision of three community members and the hard work of their volunteer team, the corner is becoming a welcoming space designed to connect the neighborhood to the entire community.
With more than 70 volunteer hours of planning and labor already spent on its creation, the CommuniTea Garden already emits a sense of order and anticipation. Rock-lined flood irrigation channels are rimmed by the beginnings of the food forest its creators envision, with fruit and nut trees, pollinator plants and other plantings with many uses.
“I think we can say we had a fully successful phase one,” said Jeff Adams, who owns the permaculture consulting and education firm Terrasophia. “Phase two is really going to be making it more people-friendly.”
Adams, along with Utah State University-Moab Sustainable Communities intern Claire Core, and the garden’s landowner and benefactor, Jay Nethercott, began planning the garden more than a year ago. In keeping with the permaculture principles guiding its design process, “prolonged and thoughtful observation” is at the heart of the success they’re seeing now, Core said.
“This project is all based on the extreme good-heartedness of just a couple of people,” she said.
Nethercott was the first and remains the garden’s primary donor, she said.
A self-described lifelong conservationist, he and Core struck up a friendly conversation at a Utah Clean Air rally in the winter of 2015, and quickly discovered a common interest in permaculture.
They brought their idea for the garden to USU-Moab Sustainable Communities Extension director Dr. Roslynn Brain, who brought Adams into the conversation, setting up the partnership that became the garden’s steering committee.
“We’ve had lots of support up to this point; a lot of people have spent a lot of hours getting to where we are now,” Core said. “Now we want to make a more welcoming space, with places for people to sit and mingle. We’ll probably put up signs. We want people to know it’s a place they’re welcome.”
The garden will ultimately serve as a casual meeting place, or somewhere to eat a sandwich at lunch, as well as an example of effective permaculture design in an urban environment, Adams said.
Part of the “phase two” transformation will be a new patio area the group is constructing that will serve as a seating area, using pavement left over from demolition at another construction site.
With a goal of incorporating materials with creativity and intention, the garden’s steering committee is always on the lookout for ways to reuse and upcycle existing material. When Core saw the pile of concrete removed for the installation of new pavement in front of the new Larson & Company accounting firm building, she asked the foreman if she could have the concrete for the garden, and the construction company delivered it happily.
An investment property purchased with a fractiously attained inheritance, its transformation into something that will be of value in perpetuity to the entire community is cleansing, Nethercott said.
“I bought that lot to profit grotesquely from it,” he joked. He is glad he was able to find like-minded partners to carry a positive vision for the lot to fruition, he said, praising Core and Adams and their volunteer team for their organization, creativity and hard work.
Many of the plants for the garden have been donated. And the time, labor and creativity invested in its creation is invaluable, all contributing to the larger goal of serving as a model way to build into the future, Core said.
The hope is that the community will join the garden’s organic growth, adding art and structure. Meanwhile, as a neighboring property owner's donated irrigation water floods the garden every five days, seeds dormant in the soil are germinating and bringing surprise volunteers into the mix of plantings.
“The wild card this year is going to see what comes up, and see what the deer eat,” Adams said.