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Austin, TX: Hard Times at the Harvey St. Community Garden

  • Subject: [cg] Austin, TX: Hard Times at the Harvey St. Community Garden
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2006 11:01:10 -0500


A more-than-25-year tradition of community gardening in Central East Austin's
McKinley Heights neighborhood has come to an end, some fear for good. The
Harvey Street Community Garden - started by legendary 92-year-old neighborhood
matriarch Hortense Lawson, across from her home on the corner of 181Z2 and
Harvey streets - has seen severe turmoil since Lawson left the neighborhood
last summer when her age made it hard to live on her own. As nine neighbors
tried to revive the garden to its previously impressive state, Lawson's
great-nephew Charles, a resident of Portland, Ore., who inherited the garden
property and a home next door, entered the picture in a big way. On March 5,
he ordered gardeners off the lot - reportedly becoming aggressive, physically
tearing up plants and, at one point, taking a sledge hammer to the garden's
fence. Charles Lawson refused to comment for this report; but he is said to
have big plans for the lot. Meanwhile, the still-in-shock gardeners - many of
whom had for years worked alongside the wise and charismatic Hortense,
assuming she owned the property - still hope that the green space will somehow
be preserved in her name, because, like Hortense, they believe the garden
unified and enriched the neighborhood.
John Clement lives a block from the garden with his family. He said he met
Hortense while walking around the neighborhood three years ago, shortly after
moving in, and had gardened with her ever since. Clement said in an e-mail
that only soil remained following the conflict in which he physically scuffled
with Charles, grappling over uprooted plants. "If he would've come to us with
an ounce of compassion, we would've been OK," he said. "He could've allowed us
to finish out the season."
Musician Terri Lord has lived across the street from the garden and was
Hortense's next-door neighbor for about eight years. She said Charles told her
he hoped to profit $250,000 from the two lots, to pay for an 8,000-square-foot
home he hopes to build in Northwest Austin. Lord doubts such profits are
possible in the neighborhood, and, having seen the working poor priced out of
the area already, laments the onset of gentrification. At the height of the
conflict, she said, Charles "started yelling at me, and I told him he was
being aggressive. He kept insisting there was no garden." Debris went airborne
as Charles smashed the garden's fence with a sledge hammer, Lord recounted. "I
said 'you could hurt someone', and he remarked 'that wouldn't be such a bad
With recent movements toward organic foods and localized agriculture, Hortense
was decades ahead of her time when she gave neighbors and members of her St.
James Episcopal church the eggplant, broccoli, collard greens, cauliflower,
cabbage, peppers, and tomatoes she grew. In 1992, she told the Statesman, "The
satisfaction is just seeing the miracle of growth. ... The satisfaction of
getting blooms. Then seeing the squash on your table and knowing it doesn't
have pesticides."
Neighbor Aaron Wilder began gardening at Harvey Street after Hortense had
already left. "The community garden created a safe place in the neighborhood,"
he says. After he and others had been gardening there for three or four
months, he remembers curious local kids beginning to visit the garden,
chatting, playing, and nibbling on unfamiliar veggies, and how it made people
proud of the neighborhood.
Pointing to Swede Hill Park on East 14th - where neighbors had empty lots with
more than 20 years of community use designated as a city park, saving it from
development - Lord is hopeful that the Harvey Street garden can be preserved
as well. The land has always been in the Lawson family, and, although Hortense
paid taxes on the lot and maintenance costs were shared over the years by
many, Charles Lawson now owns the property - unlike the city-owned Swede Hill
lots. Hopes that there will one day be a Hortense Lawson Community Garden
continue to germinate, nevertheless.
Copyright ) 2006 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved

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