[NOTE: Karen Harwell, the topic of this article, will be a panelist at the Neighborhood Play Forum in Palo Alto on January 23.]
I just met the woman of my dreams last week. No, my wife has nothing to worry about. I met the woman I’d most like to live next to. Her name is Karen Harwood, and she lives on Dana Avenue in Palo Alto, CA.
You see, my wife and I have been searching for a house in a Palo Alto or Menlo Park Playborhood for over two years. We want to live in a neighborhood where lots of children roam outside playing, independent of their parents.
Karen has singlehandedly created this environment in her one-sixth of an acre yard, the “Dana Meadows Organic Children’s Garden.” That small amount of space, less the space for her house, is the home of seventeen different fruit trees, numerous vegetable plants, ducks, and bee hives. It also contains many facilities that make it sustainable like a compost pile and worm pile.So, the Dana Avenue children who call her garden theirs are extremely lucky. They wander in and out as they please, serendipitously whether Karen is present or not. They work the garden themselves, digging and planting seeds and harvesting the many fruits and vegetables.
In addition, though, they have a kind and wise teacher right there who is ready to answer any question, and whose every answer leads us to ask more questions. Karen studied biology in college and is a former teacher. Walking through her garden with her, I was struck by how many questions I had for her on a subject that never appealed to me as a student.
How does trash become fertilizer in a compost pile? What function to worms play in a garden? Can ducks understand us when we talk? When is the best time of year to pick fruit from her 17 different fruit trees?
I felt like a toddler seeing a garden for the first time. Come to think of it, in my 45 years, perhaps I’d never really seen a garden before Karen showed me hers.
You can read more about Karen Harwood and her Dana Meadows Organic Children’s Garden in a Palo Alto Weekly article written in 2003.