University City

Gardening still strong in Mecklenburg

The cycle of planting and harvesting is still an important part of life in many Mecklenburg County households.

There are a host of reasons for the spate of garden trowels cutting into the earth as temperatures rise across the Piedmont.

Some growers are on a quest for high-quality food. Many crave flora for the breakfast table. Your neighbor might be digging for the area’s best curb appeal.

Most gardeners will tell you the hours spent tending to crops is really about being close to nature.

“It doesn’t feel like hard work,” said Lorraine Shannon, surveying the carefully groomed areas of her landscape, off Mallard Creek Road in northeast Charlotte. “It’s something that I want to do.”

Thirty-six percent of U.S. households are expected to have a flower garden this year, including Shannon. Twenty-two percent are likely to have some type of veggie patch, according to the National Gardening Association.

Keeping plenty of fresh food just outside the back door is a way of life for many families, including many immigrants.

Ploi Kpuih is already watching corn, mint and a few other crops sprout outside her home, near Hovis Road in west Charlotte.

She and her husband, Hmrin Rocham, have recently tilled most of the soil in their back and side yards. Breaking up the clay will make it easier for young plants to spread their roots.

The ground will be covered with green sprouts in a month or so, Kpuih says in broken English as she looks over the vast mud patches.

Kpuih also has pots of lemongrass plants tucked away in a storage closet near the garden beds. They’ll go in the ground when the threat of frost has passed, perhaps in May.

Inside the house, she has baskets of seeds collected after last year’s harvest. The number of seeds in those baskets is a promise that the family will have a steady supply of squash, melons, chili peppers and even rice.

Her family has done the same for generations in Vietnam’s Montagnard villages.

Mecklenburg County’s city dwellers are also connecting to old-world ways with the land, but in their own way.

Shannon is among those who turned to a local garden club to learn skills that earlier generations who lived in the same area probably would have passed along to their kin.

In addition to what she’s learned at the University City Garden Club’s activities over the past five years, she has picked up plenty of free plants during plant swaps.

She’s also found important friendships during the club’s craft projects and harvest potlucks, for people who share her passion of plants. She also has become the club’s co-president.

Shannon still shops for food in a grocery store, but carefully chosen perennial plants will for decades allow her to show others some of the things that she admires most in nature.

“It’s enjoyable being out here,” she said. “It’s satisfying to look at what you’ve done.”