In The Press
Garden Oasis Educates Community
by Suzy Fischer
Intown Magazine, May 2007
What urban oasis lies among a 20-lane freeway, two large apartment complexes and a mid-rise office building?
It you are at a loss for an answer, you are in the company of many residents of the Upper Kirby District where the site is located. The answer (tucked behind the building at 3015 Richmond Avenue) is the Upper Kirby District Community Garden in Levy Park. First time visitors who stumble into the garden, as well as the seasoned gardeners who maintain the garden's plots, find it a serene retreat even though it is located only a stone's throw from Houston's busiest freeway.
After entering into an Adopt-A-Park agreement with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, the District held a “town hall” type meeting and local resident voted for the community garden concept. This idea, believed to be an educational opportunity for all ages, would allow members of the dense and growing community a chance to get their hands dirty. After years of planning and construction, the community garden and nature center opened in the fall of 2003.
The garden consists of 38 raised beds, a certified habitat garden and a wetland area. In keeping with its educational goal, environmentally oriented groups were asked to plant the two large demonstration beds at the entrance. In one bed, Harris County Master Gardeners Association showcases Texas All-Star Plants that are proven performers in our area. George Williams, president of the organization during the garden's planning phase, maintains the bed, despite the thirty-minute drive to the garden. While tending the bed, he enjoyed watching the individual plots flourish and decided to rent one for himself.
The Native Plant Society of Texas maintains the other large bed. Society members plant the bed with hardy natives to demonstrate environmentally appropriate alternatives to those ornamental plants whose cultural requirements waste precious water supplies and demand the use of chemical insecticides.
Lucia's Garden's Lucia Bettler, whose home and garden shop are only blocks away, plants four of the smaller raised beds as herb demonstration areas. She loves the different energies she finds there in the morning and at dusk, but finds Saturdays, when many gardeners are tending their beds and sharing gardening tips, to be the most fun. “…that's what its all about, really – sharing and taking care of the earth in a wholistic, organic way."
Four central beds are planted seasonally with flowering annuals and perennials. The splash of blooming color at the core of the garden is not all show. The flowers attract bees that pollinate the vegetables and fruit planted throughout the garden.
The remaining 28 beds are rented by individuals who simply want to garden. Some are apartment dwellers with no place to garden. Others lack the sun necessary for growing vegetables and fruit in their home gardens. Three charter members Frances Pendergraft and Cindy and David Moore, garden at their respective homes but claim the vegetables they grow at the community garden are twice as productive and tasty. Cindy believes the reason for her success is the high quality soil used to fill the beds as well as the use of Microlife™, a microbial stimulating, organic fertilizer.
As an Earth-friendly garden, gardeners are required to use organic products when fertilizing or treating for insects or disease. The beds are irrigated by the use of a water-smart drip system, which runs constantly and with a slight trickle of water delivers moisture 6 inches below the soil surface. As the moisture evaporates, water is provided to the plants and encourages a deeper root system. A composting program keeps most of the garden refuse out of the landfill and provides rich organic matter for use in the garden beds.
The garden is fenced with a locked gate, in part for security and in part to keep children safely away from the wetland at night. During the week, Upper Kirby staff, whose offices are located at 3015 Richmond, unlock the gate at the beginning of the workday and lock it at the day’s close. During the weekend, the task of opening and closing rests with the gardeners.
Upon renting a plot at the garden, one becomes a member of the Upper Kirby Community Garden Club. The club has bylaws, holds monthly meetings and usually has a waiting list to join. Members are required to perform several hours of community service towards the maintenance of communal portions of the garden, which include: beds planted in part with lemons, pomegranates, persimmons, blackberries and roses; five grape arbors; the habitat garden and the wetland.
Suzy Fisher is a registered Landscape Architect and principal of Fisher Schalles, a landscape design/build firm. Opened in 1983 the firm provides a landscape design alternative that combines strong architectural design ability with horticultural expertise, resulting in designs that blend texture, color, scents, and scale for exterior living spaces that perfectly complement their indoor counterparts.