Shut Up And Dig

Turning a City Corner into a Garden

Tara Sayers Dillard9 comments433 views
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I got really tired of looking at this weedy corner, just a block from my home. A city-owned spot, it was filled with poison ivy, English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, and volunteer shrubs impeding driver visibility.

So in August I began The Great Clean-up, which yielded a ginormous pile of plant material to be hauled away.

Unfortunately, the clean-up also yielded this sting and about nine others like it. I took this selfie and posted it online, looking for help identifying whatever had attacked me en masse as I was pulling English ivy away from the base of a tree. I had neither seen nor heard any insects, so was surprised by what felt like needles suddenly jabbing into assorted parts of my body, including spots covered with layers of clothing.

Whatever the insects were (probably some ground-nesting wasp), they hurt like hell and had me totally spooked. So I waited until this month to continue the clean-up, in hopes that they’d be gone and thankfully, they were. (I’m told they were killed off by evening temperatures below 60.)

Compared to the wasp attacks, the threat of poison ivy didn’t particularly faze me. Good thing, since my precautions didn’t completely succeed and my forearms were both afflicted with itching after contact with poison ivy roots. Ah, gardening!

But the work and suffering paid off and the spot was ready for planting a full-grown ‘Ogon’ Spirea, six large Carexes, and dozens of ‘Ice Dance’ Carex for groundcover, all volunteers from my garden.

Neighbors donated lots of well-established Black-eyed Susans (our state flower), unidentified tall Sedums, daylilies and daffodils. The daffodils were purchased for the project but other than that, the make-over costs nothing.

The Public Reacts

One close neighbor noticed me working on the corner, so I called out to tell her I was “clearing the weedy mess.” Her response: “Why?” I couldn’t believe I heard right, so I asked her to repeat the question, which she did. I responded, “To make it pretty,” which resulted in a look of utter bewilderment on her face. I, too, was bewildered by our brief exchange.

Not long after, with the new plants in place, the same neighbor approached the corner with another look of bewilderment but this time it was in appreciation. “It looks like a garden that’s always been there,” she said. Yep, that’s the beauty of donated, full-grown plants.

Which reminds me that when I mentioned the make-over to our mayor he brought up possible sources of grants that might finance the purchase of plants. No need for that, I told him.

The Public Learns?

Something else about the make-over that earned the mayor’s approval is its teaching mission as a low-maintenance demonstration garden. Only plants that will survive with no supplemental watering after initially being established are being included in the garden. And of course no fertilizers or pesticides will be needed.

Granted, next season there will be tons of weeding to do but after that, with no more disturbance of the soil and with the fast-spreading groundcovers doing their job, weeding should be forever minimal.

I wonder if other public spots might be turned into instant gardens at no cost if they’re adopted by gardeners with full-grown plants to spare. Seems like the perfect, on-mission project for Master Gardeners and garden clubs alike.

Posted by

Susan Harris
on October 28, 2016 at 8:56 am, in the category Real Gardens.

9 Comments

  1. Wonderful work to help beautiful our world. I can sympathize with the poison ivy itches as I am highly allergic and usually have a case of it in spring and again in fall as I work out in my yard. I am hoping my ground covers take over, kill the poison ivy and allow my to donate to a vacant lot and help beautify Lawton, Michigan!

  2. Here in Fort Wayne, a local resident established is a teeny tiny garden in a small median. She plants annuals and maintains it, although I can’t imagine when because it is a busy intersection. I’ve been wanting to do something with the signage for our addition, but it may be torn down/relocated when they widen the road there. Still, I have plenty of perennials I could transplant. Maybe next year.

  3. In the city of Victoria, British Columbia, groups of neighbors maintain small public gardens – such as the one Susan Harris describes above – in their neighborhoods. It has been going on for decades and the gardeners take great pride in the appearance of the gardens they tend.

  4. I believe what you are doing is referred to as “guerilla gardening”. As in sneaking around, so to speak, to beautify an area. I have four 4 X 4 beds in an empty lot near my condo. Had to haul in soil, as the developer scraped the soil and sold it when he realized solid rock was hard to build more condos on. Then, 10 years ago, he sold the lot to the power company. I have been growing flowers there for seven.

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