Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Green Start in the Heart of the City

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 8:06 AM

Taking a shortcut to bypass Charlotte, I stumbled on the community garden of the John Henry Hale homes, the “Seaside” inspired housing bordered by the I-40 inner loop on one side and 17th Avenue North on the other.

It was the first I’d heard of it, and I jumped out to snap pictures of the tidy raised boxes behind the locked gate.

A white BMW pulled up, and a gardener walked over. “You with the paper?” he asked. I said I was, and that the garden had taken me by surprise as I rolled past on Jo Johnston Avenue.

MDHA granted funds for the John Henry Hale Community Garden, and the project began this spring. (Read more about it on Gloria Ballard's blog, Turning Toward the Sun.) You can see it from the air on Google Maps, in the earliest days when the boxes were being filled with dirt.

The friendly gardener had brought along sets of elephant garlic and watermelon plants for his box. He let me into the locked enclosure. It’s just a gardener’s dream of well-built boxes brimming with well-tended plants, a handy water pump in the center. Tomatoes are already ripening, eggplants are coming along nicely, and yellow squash is ready to pick.

But the gardener was most proud of the okra. Rows and rows of it, planted in the dense hills of someone who's clearly never experienced the full majesty and exhausting abundance of a single 7-foot okra plant.

"I have so much okra, I gave everyone some. Here’s some of my okra, and here’s some. Come down here and see this box,” he said.

Ludye Wallace at the John Henry Hale community garden.
  • Ludye Wallace at the John Henry Hale community garden.
His enthusiasm was the contagious excitement of a newb gardener. We jumped from box to box, where he showed me plants he’d shared or tended or planted for other people.

Really, it was lovely, especially the raised bed for wheelchair gardeners, made even more accessible by two handicap parking spaces next to it.

The gardener began to seem familiar from my time reporting for, so I asked, “What are you doing now? I mean besides growing enough okra for everyone in the city?”

“Aw, just gardening,” he said.

“So, can you tell me your name?” I urged.

“If I tell you that, they won’t put it in the paper,” he demurred.

“I know who you are,” I reassured former Councilman Ludye Wallace. “But now you’re Farmer Okraseed.”

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