- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Surrounded by vegetable plants, herbs, flowers and glittering rocks, 4-year-old Jessica Kardos knelt and lifted a seashell to her ear.

“I like to listen to the ocean in these shells,” Jessica told the Iowa City Press-Citizen (http://icp-c.com/ZOLZsZ ).

Seashells are just one of many natural treasures that can be found in Iowa City resident Blair Frank’s community garden, called Gaia’s Peace Garden. Frank, who owns the chemical-free garden located on Bristol Drive, treats the property like a public park and allows anyone to visit and roam there. He also allows people to harvest food and herbs there on request and participate in its upkeep.

The one-acre property includes a labyrinth, a berry patch, a fire pit and areas for children to play. But that’s not all. The property also boasts numerous medicinal herbs, such as Comfrey and St. John’s Wort, a butterfly garden, indigenous prairie land and an orchard where paw paws and persimmons grow.

Frank, a retired nurse and pastor, said his wife, Mary Kirkpatrick, bought and planted the garden in 2008, although he took ownership of it about a year ago. He said he and Kirkpatrick want the garden to be a serene, welcoming place for the community and that they drew from concepts in the book “Sacred Economics” by Charles Eisenstein while they developed it.

“Basically, it’s the care of the Earth and care of people and sharing the abundance,” he said.

Kirkpatrick said she was inspired to create the garden because she wanted to expand permaculture practices she was using in her yard and that she based its design in part on the Findhorn Foundation conscious living community in Scotland.

She said she hoped the garden would be a place where she and others could relax and find joy.

“There was kind of a community aspect right from the very start,” she said.

Frank said he recently expanded parts of the Peace Garden, including the labyrinth, and that he plans to add new areas next spring that may include bee hives and a pond with a waterfall.

He said he thinks gardening practices he uses in the Peace Garden aren’t limited to his property, and that his garden seems to be part of a growing trend in the Iowa City area.

The Iowa City nonprofit Backyard Abundance, partnering with Iowa City Parks and Recreation, has begun developing an expansion of Wetherby Park’s Edible Forest Maze and plans to expand the Discovery Garden at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center next spring.

The North Liberty Community Pantry is developing a community garden initiative that will begin offering food and education to members of the community through the pantry next year.

Tina DuBois, executive director of the pantry, said there’s a growing trend throughout the nation of people producing their own food through gardens and edible landscaping, and that North Liberty is no exception.

“I think this is an important part of what’s happening across the country,” she said.

The community garden in North Liberty will include fruit trees, perennials such as rhubarbs and grapes, a pollinator area and annual plants such as peppers and tomatoes, DuBois said. She said staff also will offer educational opportunities, such as classes on container gardening.

Food from the garden will be available to pantry visitors and children participating in the North Liberty Summer Lunch and Fun program.

DuBois said the community garden during its first two years will be funded by about $77,700 from a matching grant through The Wellmark Foundation and donations. She said the pantry is seeking donations and that it has collected about $15,000 so far.

Backyard Abundance Director Fred Meyer said during the past several years he’s received an increasing number of inquiries about developing edible landscapes and community gardens in yards and public parks.

He said he’s noticed a trend of people becoming more and more interested in using their front yards for practical purposes such as growing food and perennial plants that offer environmental benefits.

“People are really interested in what to do with their front yards,” he said.

Meyer, who lives near the Peace Garden, said he helped Kirkpatrick develop the garden and that he drew what he learned about how certain plants interact while developing the Edible Forest Maze at Wetherby Park.

He said Backyard Abundance often holds meetings in the garden, a space where people likely are more attuned to creative thinking as compared with an indoor environment.

“It’s a wonderful space just to go and visit and relax,” he said.

Jennifer Kardos, 4-year-old Jessica’s mom, said she began hosting classes for a group of about 10 students from Hickory Hill Play-School in the children’s area at the garden this year. She said the kids helped with growing strawberries, pumpkins, beans and other foods and that the process of growing veggies seemed to make some kids more open to eating them.

Kardos said the Peace Garden is a spot where her own children can dig for potatoes and help with composting.

For her, she said the garden is “a calm, soothing place” where she can bring her kids and escape from the weariness of daily life.

“I think it’s a very healing place,” she said.

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Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/

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