Since arriving in the Golden Isles in 1985, our family has enjoyed the wonderful opportunity of living in two residential neighborhoods where we have felt secure and safe. Neighbors watch out for each other, often including each other’s homes as well. Because there have been no sidewalks in either of our subdivisions, watchful and cautious residents know to drive carefully, keenly aware that children are often riding bikes or playing in the streets. Safety, however, hasn’t been the only blessing. Neighbors have all been kind and caring.

Unannounced visits have always been okay, as long as one is considerate of the timing. And those visits are what make life so special. One of my favorite memories, when our children were little, was when we were all adopted by an older couple next door as part of their family. They would bring over home–cooked meals to help stretch out a tight budget, and offer to babysit for a welcome few hours away as a young married couple. Every Christmas the doorbell would ring and some homemade goody or small gift would be sitting at the door, one for each daughter. Birthdays meant cookies, cupcakes or a cake made from scratch. Another memory involves the many hot, summer days when two neighboring families who had children of similar age opened up the gates to allow daily–supervised accessibility to their backyard pools. The one rule was a parent must accompany their children.

So how did we and other families reciprocate this kind of generosity back then and now? We share the bounties of our gardens and freely offer our gardening expertise when asked. Those of us with small vegetable gardens always plant more than we can use. A few squash, tomato, cucumber, bush bean, eggplant, okra and pepper plants produce way more than one might expect. Sweet onions are easy to grow as well. For many years, we had a garden at the community plots by the airport, so our family always had an abundance of produce to offer. Along with the produce, I would enclose a recipe card for such tasty items such as Vidalia onion pie, tomato pie, stuffed peppers, zucchini bread, and both bread and butter or dill pickles. If I had the time, I would make the recipe as well. I am still gardening today (in two locations) and am growing all of the above, plus watermelon and Amish pie-making pumpkins (treasured seed source from a friend). I grow everything from seed and have found Johnny Selected Seeds to have very high germination rates. Favorite Johnny varieties include: squash – Zephyr, Dunja, Gold Star, Costata Romanesco, Eight Ball and Summer Ball; Sweet onion – Walla Walla; cucumber – General Lee and Jackson Supreme; cherry tomato – Bumble Bee, Sungold, Jasper; slicing tomato – Chef’s Choice Orange, Big Beef, Valencia, BHN 1021; grape tomato – Juliet; heirloom tomato – Cherokee Purple, Striped German, Black Krim; bush beans – Provider, Royal Burgundy; eggplant – Hansel, Gretal, Traviata; okra – Clemson Spineless, Carmine Splendor; hot peppers – Early Jalapeño, Jalafuego, Hot Rod; sweet peppers – Lunchbox, Islander, Cupid, Bianca, Eros, Sweet Chocolate; grilling and stuffing peppers – Carmen, Nassau, Escamillo; banana pepper – Goddess. Swapping veggies is also a lot of fun. There is nothing like exchanging whatever is on hand for sweet corn from a larger garden!

Other neighbors share their abundance of cut flowers. Easy-to-grow zinnias, cosmos, Black–eyed Susan, globe amaranth, plume and wheat celosia, coneflower, sunflower, gladiola, dianthus (garden pinks), calendula, marigold, bachelor button are just a quick few that come to mind. What a nice surprise to find a bouquet on the doorstep for no reason at all except to offer a cheery welcome when coming home.

Then there is fruit – delicious citrus varieties, including Satsuma or blood oranges, key limes, grapefruit and lemons. Some gardens have that perfect niche with a microclimate that protects the plants from harsh winters. Low-chill varieties of apple, pear, peach and nectarine make growing these favorites doable in the Southeast. I learned about a white peach variety, Tropic Peach, this summer, that has completely convinced me to plant one in my yard. One small tree yielded 150-plus pounds of peaches.

I’ve been writing Blooming Issues since 1993. The recurrent theme is that gardening is trial and error, hard work but richly rewarding. The keys to success start with research and wise planning, good organically rich well-drained soil, proper site for the choice of plant material, and healthy plants that grow well in coastal Zone 9a. You simply can’t skip any of these.

Before closing, I have to add two items. Great neighbors also know the value of just offering a listening ear, the passing of a hat to help during a lean spell, or running errands when needed. And thank goodness for those neighbors who are mechanically inclined or skilled in carpentry, electricity or plumbing. During two brushes with hurricanes, our German Village neighborhood was benefitted by neighbors using hefty chainsaws to clear fallen trees. Neighbors to the north whose property abuts our neighborhood opened up their private drive to use as a means into and out of the neighborhood until our one street in and out was cleared.

Our neighborhood is not uncommon. I think many of us who live in the Golden Isles treasure all that a small, close-knit neighborhood has to offer. I am deeply thankful for living where I do.