Urban Domination Through Eco-Beautification!

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Where once was an urban jungle, full of the most foul & invasive weeds (you know the type- they strangle everything beautiful, rob the soil of beneficial nutrients and can even rip up the shingles of a home), the most infertile and trash-ridden dirt/sand (cigarettes, glass, condoms, needles and other urban treasures), where there was no life, no beauty and folks who resided here would hurriedly rush into their “Area 4” apartment here in Cambridge MA…

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…turned into this sweet flora scape of explosive color, texture and _holy wow_ some of the sweetest scents you’ve ever sniffed. For two years I made this front “yard,” my front “yard” a personal project as I could not accept living in a space that suffered so much neglect. I honestly felt as though I was contributing to the decline of the neighborhood if I didnt take action and put my heart into this tiny postage stamp of earth. So, I cleaned out all the rubbish, dug down deep with my trowel, shovel, pickaxe, saw & hacked, cleared, weeded churned and worked in a nominal amount of compost to make the soil have even the slightest chance of supporting any plant life .

At the time, I was working for a larger gardening company in Cambridge that would often toss plants that no longer stood up to their high standards (due to a brown leaf or slightly wilted disposition) and would happily kidnap these little orphans (2 or 3 brown leaf bags at a time) and ride them home on my bike, messenger bag full too.  Each plant was a prize to me! I would love to shuffle the perennials around to make sure each new one was placed in a grouping just so- with it’s colors and textures working and blending, swooping and bending.  Eventually, even after only a few months of care, I created a front yard that hosted a myriad bees, earthworms, BUTTERFLIES and (however lured by the Catmint) the snapping spot for the neighborhood cat!

The most beautiful and rewarding part about this installation was obviously the outcome, but what really turned me on, were the looks of awe and joy that swept across neighbors’ faces. I was taking care of and cleaning up their neighborhood. Taking care of their street. Their home.

Often, I would offer clippings for propagation, split plants and swap with women a few houses away, talk to the little girls walking home from school as they reached through the chain link fence (which I wish I could have torn down!) for a daisy, aster or iris.

I would work in the garden on rainy days (my post man thought I was crazy) covered in mud, crap & god-knows-what, reaching deep down into the soil to remove every speck of Black Swallowart root because I knew that it’s easier to get at the hell of a plant when conditions are moist. And yes, maybe I was crazy-I did get a lot of laughs and, “Girl you must be MENTAL!” as I would grin with slop mud and plant matter all over my face and butt.

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But that’s great! Because looking back, (I no longer live there) people noticed & that’s what I wanted.  I wanted them to know that they, too, deserved to see something sweet and beautiful on their walk to school or home from work and that someone actually cared to make it happen. Folks often peeked into the garden because they knew it was always changing, growing, shifting & popping with new colors with the changing of the seasons.  I also noticed that people (mostly) stopped littering into the garden because, as I said, they knew someone actually CARED about it (and because they were frightened by how tough I look out there in my big goofy hat.)

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It sounds silly and maybe even too personal, but even though I lived on the third floor of this rundown apartment, I would swoon over making breakfast for the ones I loved & balance coffee, plate, OJ etc. down the stairs and “stoop it” on the front steps.  We would sit with our humble bounty and strange morning humor and share our energy (“our” as in us as people + the garden) with everyone who passed by.

Heck, we even had a few evening parties that transitioned to the “stoop” and I would be overly elated to think that it had something, anything even a micro-thing to do with the beauty that spilled out of the flower pots that lined the edge of the stairs or the sweet and humming flora bursting out and onto the soil.

Anyways.

I love gardening and I honestly believe that the feeling we all get from looking at a beautiful flower transcends time, ethnicity, culture, class, gender and so on, and that we need to start appreciating ALL of our remaining green spaces with respect, love in care- because really, it’s a reflection and projection of how we care about ourselves and the ones around us.

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