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Durham, NC: backyard community garden blooms

  • Subject: [cg] Durham, NC: backyard community garden blooms
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Mon, 27 Dec 2004 12:44:03 -0800 (PST)

Durham, NC, Herald-Sun
Dec 26, 2004

Community blooms in backyard


DURHAM -- When Airlie and Josh Rose bought their house
in Old North Durham in May 2002, its back yard already
was a "cut-through" for the neighborhood kids.

Cutting through the Roses' Lynch Street lot was the
easiest route for residents of nearby Bennett Court to
get to the bus stop on Mangum Street. So people had
been cutting through for years, including the six
years that the house sat vacant.

"Our back yard was the play area for all the kids in
the neighborhood, and just the easiest route for
everyone to get to the bus," Airlie Rose said. "We
have kind of a clash of education and income
difference between these two parts. ... When we moved
in, everyone was sure we were going to put up a big
wall to block foot traffic."

Instead, Airlie Rose, 34, who has a master's degree in
developmental biology from Duke University, and Josh
Rose, 35, a Duke graduate student in biology, have
launched plans to turn their back yard into a
community garden and nature walk.

"One of the reasons we liked this house in this
neighborhood is because it seems like it's the most
interracial," she said. "Kids from both areas play
together on our street, and the connection that
everyone used was our yard. If we put in a wall to
destroy all that, what kind of message is that going
to send to the kids?"

For her efforts, Airlie Rose received a Neighborhood
Hero award in September. The Inter-Neighborhood
Council honored 21 people for exceptional acts in
their communities. The Herald-Sun is profiling some of
them in an occasional series.

"She could just be grouchy like the rest of us and say
[to the kids], 'Get out of my yard; get off of my
property,' " said Helena Cragg, the neighbor who
nominated Rose for the award. "But she turns it into a
positive and does everything she can to help the

'Plant collectors'

The Roses jokingly refer to themselves as "plant
collectors," but are in fact knowledgeable botanists
with a passion for all vegetation.

"To the right of the mulberry tree back there is a
peach tree," Airlie Rose said. "We're going to trim
the mulberry down and then plant apples on either
side, and make that kind of a fruit tree area. ... You
can train the limbs of the fruit trees to knit
together and make it a fence around the community
garden area."

Community activist and Old North Durham resident
Richard Mullinax has been helping design the backyard,
including plans for a community garden, with gates and
paved pathways through the yard.

The Roses already have planted witch hazel and silky
dogwood trees, plus several native shrubs and vines.
Josh Rose said he was going to use pictures of the
plants and flowers to make signs telling people what's

The backyard long has been a community area. Three
sisters who lived in the house until they died in the
1990s used to let other people in the neighborhood
come and plant gardens in the backyard, Airlie said.

A drink stand, a wooden board nailed to a pole made
years ago by a man who still lives in the
neighborhood, stands in the backyard, an artifact of
that time.

"He lives about two doors down, and when he was
younger, he would love to come back here and garden
with his mom," Airlie Rose said. "They used to have a
tomato patch over there."

Though their plans are not finished, the Roses already
let others plant in their yard.

One 13-year-old girl who has since moved away planted
a garden of tomatoes, basil, hot peppers and green

"She worked really hard on that plot," Airlie Rose
said. "She was picking the basil and taking it to her
teachers at school."

Lizards and cats

The Roses have tried to become friends with some of
the children from Bennett Court, some of whose parents
work three jobs, Airlie Rose said.

"They like our pet lizards and cats and our new baby,
so we've become sort of a hangout," she said.

Gardening and observing the lifecycles of different
plants are hands-on ways to teach children things they
might not learn otherwise, Mullinax said.

"I think it will be really cool for kids to see that
there are cycles," he said. "You can plant radish
seeds and be eating in over a month, but with some
biennials, you can plant something and not see
anything for two years."

Though Airlie Rose is busy raising a year-old
daughter, Tevah, she is always trying to find ways to
engage other children in the community, Cragg said.

"She's so busy, but she has no hesitation in getting
out there and trying to find things for [the
neighborhood kids] to do to use their minds and
energies positively, instead of shoving them off
because she's tired of seeing them," she said

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

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