If it was up to Gina Zivkovic all the empty lots and parking strips in the valley would be planted with herbs, tomatoes, fruit trees and flowers. Gina is passionate about gardening and makes her living as a landscaper. In 2004 she started a community garden on a lot that was empty except for weeds and a Reagan Outdoor Advertising billboard at 300 North and 900 West.
Reagan owned the lot and gave her permission to start the community garden. And community is the key word for the garden. Gina gets most excited by the kids who come by after school and pitch in. The homeless people in the area tell her they watch over the garden by night and keep it safe. Neighbors stop by to help. She tries to never turn anyone away and wants the garden to be a place where everyone feels safe.
Gina’s mantra is “Happiness is a garden in full bloom.” The community garden in a riot of color and fragrance and texture. Edible plants are surrounded by irises and hollyhocks. Fruit trees are scattered through the space. Trellises, made from discarded tree cuttings, support climbing plants. Nothing is wasted. “It is easier to be self sufficient than you think,” Gina explains.
Neighbors drop useful things off to her. Recycled chairs, tables and carpet – acting as a stage and as weed deterrents – dot the landscape. The carpet stage is for an event she calls First Friday. Neighbors and friends gather for potluck and to hear local bands every first Friday of the month. The only time the event doesn’t run is during the deep cold of January.
The garden sounds like an ideal dream, but there are snakes to deal with. Someone complained about a full size teepee she had on the parking strip. The kids loved it and she used it for hanging plants. When the police came to investigate they cited her for the teepee, weeds that were too tall, having the wrong kind of outdoor furniture and too much trash and debris. She made the necessary changes, but that didn’t stop all of the problems.
Just last year, when Gina was visiting Costa Rica, the weeds took over. When she got home she found a 30 day notice to clean up them up. The problem was that by the time she found the notice there were only four days left on the time frame. Reagan didn’t want to have problems with the city and told her if she couldn’t get it in shape they would xeriscape the whole lot. In other words tear out the plants and fill it with rocks.
Gina turned to Facebook and sent a plea for volunteers. Friends, neighbors and even strangers responded and they made it in time. When what she calls the “weed cops” came to inspect the garden everything looked great and the garden was saved.
Reagan was pleased with how things turned out and since then she has worked with Guy Larson, the real estate manager for Reagan, on a plan to put community gardens on all of the Reagan lots in Salt Lake. She is coordinating volunteer stewards that would be in charge of each area. It is all part of her vision to make unproductive spaces into productive, life-giving, edible gardens.
Another project Gina is working on is to change the name along 300 North to Calle de Comide – Street of Food. She would like to see all of the parking strips along the road turned into gardens instead of grass strips that waste water and resources.
Gina dreams big. She recently approached one of her church leaders with an idea to take out the grass at LDS ward houses and replace them with gardens. “People,” she said, “are so embedded in traditional landscaping, but the end result of planting gardens is a better use of resources and healthier way to live.”§