While people talk about a permanent memorial commemorating the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting, a legacy already exists.

It's in a community garden just blocks from the old East Pima Street office of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

After Jared Lee Loughner shot 19 people, six of them fatally, at a Giffords event, people offered expressions of grief, condolences and good wishes.

Candles, toys, flowers and other items appeared at the northwest-side Safeway where the shooting occurred, Giffords' office and University Medical Center, where she and the other wounded were treated.

These items were packed away the following spring to await display at a permanent memorial. But all of the plant material found a new home right away.

A month before the shooting, Brad Holland, a Tucson attorney and friend of Giffords, and the Community Gardens of Tucson had begun to turn vacant land he owned into plots where neighborhood residents could grow vegetables.

Holland says Giffords knew of his plans. "She was very excited about this," he says.

After the shooting, he spoke with Giffords' staff members about the memorials. "We talked about a number of plans on how we might utilize these gifts and offerings," Holland says.

That led Holland to accept a household-size moving van full of organic material, including decomposing floral and fruit arrangements, and potted plants.

Fifteen volunteers spent four Saturdays separating out and cataloging cards, photos and other non-plant material.

Surviving amaryllis, iris and tulip bulbs were planted into one community-garden plot, where they still grow.

Holland, who lives next door to the community garden, planted in his private garden teacup roses and Greek oregano that were still alive after weeks in a box.

The rest of the organic material was tossed into a giant compost pile - neighbors call it the "midtown mountain." It provides amendments to the community garden soil.

Of the 31 locations that the Community Gardens of Tucson helps maintain, this Garden in the Desert 2 "has the most community spirit," says organization Executive Director Gene Zonge.

It's a focal point for the Garden District Neighborhood Association area in which it's located, says group President Ida Plotkin. "It has been a wonderful place, even a healing place," she says.

"How our garden thrives is how we hope Gabrielle Giffords will thrive," she adds.

Holland says the garden has spiritual meaning for him and he feels responsible for maintaining it.

"We understand that we're caretakers of others' love and devotion," he says. "It's an important place for us."

Growing community

Brad Holland defines the midtown community garden at 1933 N. Bell Ave. as a semi-public park.

It's usually open on weekend mornings when gardeners tend the 21 plots. They pay a fee to garden there, so the public cannot pick any of the plants.

Public gardening lessons are held every first Saturday of the month at 9 a.m.

More information about community gardening is available from Community Gardens of Tucson, 795-8823 or communitygardensoftucson.org

Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at acoba@dakotacom.net