By: Josie Watson, volunteer and Sassafras garden designer
On July 28th I spent the day in Lower Price Hill. Working alongside horticulturists from the Cincinnati Zoo, staff from Community Matters and 80+ volunteers from P&G, the empty lots of 650 and 652 Neave St. were transformed into an incredible children’s garden, park and nature-based play space. This was a garden I had been planning for nearly two years and it was a humbling and inspiring experience to watch it grow into existence over the course of a day. At 5am I stood in the rain wondering how it would all possibly come together. And by 5pm, we had a garden:
The raised beds are built, there’s a garden shed for storing tools, a stage for performances and a Quonset hut (read: hoop house) for starting seeds. The path running through the garden is ADA compliant as are a few of the picnic tables. There are paw-paw trees, rhubarb, blueberries, asparagus and pomegranates. The apple tree, planted two years ago in hopes that this space would one day become a garden, has been joined by so many perennials, food crops and trees it is quite unbelievable. The plant beds are filled with lavender and fennel and begonias (whose petals, I recently learned, are edible and quite delicious) and myriad plants whose names and attributes I have yet to learn.
And in the back corner of the garden space, tucked under the swooping branches of an old mulberry and hackberry tree, lies the play space. No metal climbers or plastic slides, it makes no bold claims of being a playground that kids recognize immediately as such. Logs and stumps and bamboo tipis and a 3,000 lb. hollow log extracted by Zoo staff from Spring Grove cemetery. It is a place to learn to play outside. The culture of play in this space will develop over time, as kids begin to explore the feel of logs under their feet and dirt under their nails.
And now, in many ways, the real work begins. Our garden, Sassafras Garden, exists. Neighbors are intrigued. Interest is piqued. The picnic tables are being used. The hollow log is being marveled at. It’s time to grow.
Community Matters is a remarkable organization. For one thing, they leveraged the support and investment of the Reds Community Makeover program to enliven their community. With months of planning and one overwhelmingly successful volunteer day, a new home was renovated for Santa Maria Family Center, Evans field gained bleachers and lighting, and 3 empty lots turned into this incredible garden space. The staff of Community Matters are trusted by the community and are known for their commitment to Lower Price Hill. They have been managing community gardens for years and they are committed to garden-based programing.
The groundwork has been laid for a wonderfully unique and comprehensive garden program. It’s time to grow.
Before and after images of Sassafras Community Garden.