The late Carlsbad resident Harold Smerdu always wanted a garden.
So, in 1984, Smerdu gifted the city of Carlsbad a piece of land with a directive: The land must be used for a community garden.
Decades later, the Harold E. Smerdu Community Garden, the second-oldest community garden in San Diego County, is preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary on March 1.
In partnership with local gardeners, the city will throw a separate party open to the public from 10 a.m. to noon on April 1 at 1250 Laguna Drive, with guest speaker and horticultural consultant Richard Wright, who will teach a class on gardening best practices.
Smerdu’s daughter, Patrice, is a long-time gardener who has maintained a plot at her father’s legacy for years. Since her father’s death, Patrice said the gardens have exploded in popularity.
Currently, 400 people are waiting for plots at one of three city-owned community gardens (including Harold E. Smerdu Community Garden) in the Barrio and Olde Carlsbad.
“This garden has been here for 40 years, and without people donating time, money, certainly their labor, and goodwill, it wouldn’t last,” Patrice said. “We view the garden as an asset for the city.”
The garden features 39 beds measuring 20 feet by 30 feet and 26 beds at 10 feet by 15 feet. The larger plots will be subdivided after the current tenants vacate to accommodate more gardeners to the increasingly popular site.
The city charges $120 per year to cover water expenses. The garden provides communal tools, such as shovels, hoes, wheelbarrows, seedlings and compost piles.
Smerdu said the community gardens are the fourth-most desired amenity for the Carlsbad parks system.
Resident Angela Derby, who has kept a community tract for the past several years, said each plot shows the personality of the individual gardeners with various fruits, vegetables and plants.
Derby said gardening is a form of therapy, allowing her to disconnect and recharge, meet new people and share seeds, food and gardening tricks. In short, it’s a community of like-minded people enjoying what they do.
“This is like my safe place, and it’s where I go when I need to get grounded or feel better,” Derby said. “It’s getting outside, but still being alone in my little garden. It’s just a place to relax and enjoy something that makes me feel better.”
Dana Withall, another green-thumbed resident, rarely buys produce from the grocery store. Instead, Withall grows seasonally and harvests from her garden.
Bill Lanphear, head of the Smerdu Garden Committee and municipal liaison, said the garden had provided innumerable resident benefits over the years. The garden’s longest-running tenant is George Tate, 95, who has held his plot for 39 years and grows tomatoes to sell at the Del Mar Racetrack.
But it’s not just adults who experience the joys of the community garden. Third graders can visit the community garden for a scavenger hunt as part of the City Stuff program.
Positive stories and experiences are plentiful in the garden, which may be one reason for the garden’s popularity. Smerdu said the city plans another garden at Stagecoach Community Park in La Costa.
“The kids know more than the parents,” Withall said. “The parents are amazed, and you see the kids showing the parents what plants are what.”
On April 1, the Cole Library hosts a “FixIt Clinic,” and Fire Station No. 1 has a “Donate, Don’t Waste” collection event.