A Shared Garden

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I grew up along the border of Chinatown and North Beach in the '60s when there was a beautiful blend of Chinese and Italian cultures. My grandfather's Columbo Hotel shared back doors and wonderful aromas with the Italian restaurant next door. Years later, those childhood memories came back to life when I moved to my suburban Peninsula neighborhood.

At first, it was those subtle aromas that piqued my interest and led my nose to my neighbor's fence and the farm in miniature on the other side, meticulously divided up plot by plot. I went to the door where Giorgio warmly greeted me and gave me the grand tour. As he showed me his seeds, vegetable plants and herbs at different stages of growth the light in his eyes illuminated his deep passion. In Giorgio's kitchen was the source of those attention-getting aromas -- tomatoes and basil cooking on the stove. In his cellar, homemade jars of tomato sauce, vinegar and olive oil reminded me of my grandparent's cabinets filled with preserved veggies and herbs. He generously offered me some plants cultivated from seeds, instructing me how to plant them, the beginning of Giorgio's informal tutelage. "Just try and get started," he said.

My thumb is not green and I've had limited success. Perhaps out of kind pity, on any given day I'll find gifts on my porch; plums, lettuce, huge onions, a farmer's market at my doorstep. Many in our neighborhood benefit from his largesse.

I am always invigorated to notice how much our cultures share the passion for food, farming and the value of self-reliance. He scoffs at the notion of "organic" and "extra virgin" calling them worthless labels. He's old country: "Genovese" he proudly exclaims, chuckling when he sees me on my bike, telling me that at 84 gardening is all the exercise he needs.

Giorgio not only nurtures his garden, it nurtures him and together they bring vital energy to the entire neighborhood. Through him, I am reminded of the power of interconnectedness, to nature and to others, and the true meaning of friending.


Once again, a bit of Chinatown and Little Italy, side by side.

With a Perspective, I'm Larry Jin Lee.

Larry Jin Lee is a psychotherapist, diversity trainer and father of two in San Francisco.