The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Gardening initiative is started in Oakhill, but not before some back-and-forth between neighborhood and City Hall

In City Hall, New Bohemia on May 13, 2008 at 4:54 pm

On Monday evening, about 40 or so neighborhood residents turned out to start a new community garden and gardening classroom on city park space that the neighborhood calls Poet’s Park.

Michael Richards, the president of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association, initially had asked City Hall to let the neighborhood set up its demonstration garden on one of many vacant lots the city now owns in a part of the neighborhood for which a new housing initiative is targeted.

But City Hall didn’t like the idea, saying the properties were being readied for housing. Once a garden is in place, it might be impossible to move it, was part of the thinking.

To that, Richards landed on Poet’s Park, a recent creation. For that space, the neighborhood and the city have had an agreement in place that allows for the planting of prairie beds of prairie flowers to help create kind of a peaceful, reflective spot.

However, setting up a community garden is different than a couple of flower beds.

Julie Sina, the city’s parks and recreation director, noted in the last couple weeks that the city can’t just automatically let people start tilling city park space whenever they get the urge. What if others didn’t want the garden on park space? It’s easy to get the tiller out, but who is going to make sure someone follows through?

For that reason, the city has a policy and procedures for community gardens, and the city devotes a couple of large spaces for just such a thing.

In any event, Sina suggested that Richards create his community demonstration garden along Otis Road and not in Poet’s Park.

Richards would not have it. Asked how he got his way, Richards said on Tuesday, “I guess raw persistence.”

The neighborhood now is planning a 30 by 50 foot garden, and gardener Steve Hanken will oversee the operation, Richards reported.

At last night’s gardening kickoff, Richards said a group of about 40 people turned out, with 12 to 15 families arranging to help with the demonstration garden. Many of those also received seeds to plant in backyard gardens they are going to create as part of the neighborhood gardening effort.

Richards said a vacant city lot at 12th Avenue and Eighth Street SE was his first option for the demonstration garden, but Poet’s Park, also on busy 12th Avenue SE, is nearly as good.

He said it’s good because of its visibility. “That really drew people” to Monday evening’s event, he said.

No, it wasn’t as easy as he had thought to get a neighborhood gardening project, which is designed to spread gardening enthusiasm to more people, Richards said.

“I guess I was surprised it took so long, but we’re happy where it is. There were 40 really happy people last night,” he said.

Richards offered this quote, too, about persistence: “First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. … and then you win — if you speak with a clear voice.” Richards didn’t say that first. Ghandi did.




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