By Murray Schneider
The Crags Court Community Garden may be the best kept secret in Bay Area urban gardening.
Perched high above the floor of Glen Canyon, the terraced garden boasts 18 garden beds served by 25 gardeners who grow winter crops such as lettuce, kale, spinach, beans, beets, chard, celery, red potatoes and carrots.
Ornamental dahlias, as well. Throw in honeybee hives, and you’ll gain a hideaway, lodged between Glen Park and Diamond Heights that, for a few yards, runs parallel to the rim of Glen Canyon.
“The best way to access us is from the bottom of the canyon,” said Mary Devereaux, a retired City College bi-lingual teacher and Crags Court gardener.
Forgo arriving by automobile. Instead, take the freshly graded Glen Canyon Coyote Crags Trail. Only a short distance from the renovated Recreation Center, make a dog leg up the canyon’s eastern slope. Silver Tree Day camp shadows you and Islais Creek willow bends below you. Silhouetted dogwood and elderberry bookend the leaning willow. Pleasant paths and box steps ease you along your way. A sign indicating Crags Court guides you. Search for a barn owl box mounted on a Monterey pine. When you see it you’ll know your getting close. A few more steps and you’ll reach your destination.
Once there, visitors will experience — as a plaque dedicated to the garden’s founder, the late Loretta Starves Stack says — “beauty, joy and relaxation.”
On an anomalous warm Wednesday afternoon in June, Mary Devereaux sat among the garden’s ripe lemons, apples and perfumed herbs.
“We’re open to the public during daylight hours,” Devereaux said.
With the imprimatur of the Recreation and Park Department, which supplies its water and assisted in the construction of state-of-the-art garden beds, the CCCG was the inspiration of Glenridge resident, Loretta Starvus Stack.
Today the CCCG is surrounded by 1970s-style houses, canopied by pines, some succumbing to pitch canker.
“The ground wasn’t stable enough to build upon,” volunteered Leslie Moxley, who, like Devereaux, is a long time CCCG gardener.
Both Devereaux and Moxley reclined on garden chairs, reminiscing about what they’d accomplished over two decades. They looked across the canyon at a riparian corridor plush with wax myrtle and red alder. To their north Sutro Tower peeked beneath ballooning clouds. As evidence of the instability of the ground, a chair listed downhill, tilting at a 15-degree angle.
While Moxley lives in the neighborhood and Devereaux resides in Noe Valley, the garden, one of 35 such City odes to greenery, is available to anyone in the San Francisco, as it falls under the rubric of Rec and Park regulations.
“The City is invested in community gardens,” said Devereaux, who has been turning her green thumb to raising spinach, garlic, onions, peas and zucchini since 1996. “The City mandates that we provide an organic garden and use no harmful pesticides.”
The garden beds are positioned in rank and file order, which allow gardeners to easily wheelbarrow mulch and remove debris. The beds are raised so that gardeners don’t have to kneel. Three 50-foot hoses are spaced throughout the garden, which hugs the Crags Court cul-du-sac. While it doesn’t have a locked gate, the garden does offer a wooden fence. Navigating the court’s turn around several years ago, a driver plowed into it.
“The City came out and repaired it,” said Moxley, who has been gardening here since 1999.
Devereaux and Moxley have assumed the mantle of the community garden leadership, taking on the roles of Garden Secretary and Garden Coordinator respectively. Devereaux piles up four days a week, probably logging in 15-to-16 hours while Moxley calendars three days a week, clocking in at 10 hours.
It’s not just in the service of their own garden plots.
“There are common areas and each needs tending such as trellises that require trimming,” said Moxley. “The hillside has to be weeded, as do the areas adjacent to the street fence.”
CCCG gardeners are expected to participate in three work days a year, which can include picking up debris, weeding, mulching and pruning in communal space.
The common areas boast fragrant sunflowers, which play host to pollinating bees, as well as blueberries, apples and Meyer lemons awaiting picking.
“We even grow pumpkin plants,” said Devereaux. “During each fall harvest we give pumpkins to children.”
Kids aren’t strangers to the garden, and not just neighborhood children who wander through.
“Children from Glenridge Nursery School have climbed the trail for years,” said Devereaux, about the Glen Canyon Co-op pre-school kids who troop up hill behind their teachers and parents. “The kids begin to learn how to garden, to love the hoses and enjoy getting muddy.”
“We have a short waiting list of 30 gardeners now,” said Moxley. “It’s foggy and windy this high and isn’t optimum for summer crops such as tomatoes, corn and cucumbers.”
Working within the parameters of City policies, Moxley oversees the waiting list.
“Perspective gardeners can sign up on the Rec and Park website,” she explained
Candidates eventually are routed to Moxley, and she shows no preference to neighborhood applicants. But putting up annual fruits, flowers and vegetables require commitment and propinquity is a factor, as applicants are expected to work year round, keeping their plot and surrounding paths free of weeds.
“Each gardener pays $35 a year for which they share garden tools, water and access to our shed,” she said. “They sign a contract that commits each to three days a year of common area work time, a commitment to compost, remove garbage and plant no invasive species.”
“I’m the oldest gardener,” said Devereaux, who grows poppies, roses and daffodils in addition to her veggies. “With the canyon right here, I love the wildness of this place.”
The garden is prolific, gifting a bounty of fruits and vegetables.
“We grow more then we can use and occasionally donate lettuce, kale and zucchini to the Martin de Porres House of Hospitality,” said Mary Devereaux, about a Potrero Avenue soup kitchen that serves daily breakfast and lunch during the week.
As the afternoon sun began descending, Devereaux and Moxley surveyed eucalyptus duff, thistle, radish and lavender embroidered in a quilt of greenery stitching its way down the incline from the canyon’s crest. Above them a red-tailed hawk circled for rodents, possibly gophers that play havoc with the women’s garden beds. Below them the chatter of Silver Tree children mingled with the melodies of songbirds sequestered among California oak branches.
“This place gives me such a sense of peace, so far away from the insanity on the other side of the fence,” said Moxley.
Atop the ridge, honeybees choreographed entrances and exits to and from a hive adjacent to a Crags Court house. A single bee colony requires one acre of forage, biologists believe.
The synergy between the garden and the canyon below provide radish, dandelions and mustard habitat.
“It’s a gift to be able to share this garden, if for only five minutes, with people and with families” said Leslie Moxley.
If they cultivate it, Mary Devereaux and Leslie Moxley believe, people will come.
If you do, though, meander through 70-acre Glen Canyon, then top a hill.
There, time stands still.