By C. Julia Nelson
A little sunshine and a labor of love have given new life to the Buckhead and Sandy Springs communities.
Sitting precariously aside Roswell Road adjacent to a sewage tunnel cover is what could quite possibly be one of Buckhead’s best-kept secrets: the Blue Heron Community Garden. Regardless of the unlikely location between a residential neighborhood and a business community along Nancy Creek, the community garden represents more than just a place to nurture vegetation.
Between 2001 and 2005, the City of Atlanta utilized the same site as the base of a tunnel built to improve local sewage drainage. Since the property, which belongs to the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, is on the outskirts of the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, its board pursued the creation of a community garden to restore the former construction zone.
Assisted through ParkPride, a local 501(c) 3 dedicated to ‘leading and inspiring action for parks and greenspace,’ the Blue Heron Community Garden became a reality with permission from the City of Atlanta. In the summer of 2006, through the efforts of the nature preserve and the North Buckhead Civic Association, start-up costs were provided to break ground on the organic garden.
Today, the garden consists of 32, 5’x10’, garden plots enclosed by a wooden fence on the edge of the Blue Heron Nature Preserve and serve as a means of flora growth, a place to commune with unlikely neighbors and source of educational opportunities for amateur gardeners.
According to Kevin McCauley, a nature preserve board member, the community garden has proved a great success, regardless of current drought conditions.
“The idea of getting a community garden came about to get people more engaged in the nature preserve and hopefully get them to meet one another and know one another,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful thing for the neighborhood.”
Between the sweet potatoes, blackberries, tomatoes, jalapenos, carrots, green beans, chives and rosemary bushels that managed to grow this season, new friendships are blossoming everywhere. In the name of community growth, the second Saturday of each month is designated by the preserve as a workday for the gardeners to work together on improving the garden.
“We’re usually spreading woodchips, weeding garden plots, maintaining plants,” McCauley said. “It’s very casual and so far that’s worked out very well. From the standpoint of the nature preserve it’s a great way to get people interested in what we’re doing.”
Plot owner and gardener Cheryl Mowris is nearing the end of her second growing season with the community garden and wouldn’t give up the opportunity to grow her plethora of vegetables and interact with the community this way for anything.
“This is a labor of love,” she said. “ It was a lot of labor to get this plot the way you see it now. Most of the gardeners live in apartments or town homes and don’t have any place to get enough sun like (the garden can provide).
“It’s also a great tutorial. Some of the people with plots are younger couples with children and the kids come over and help. It’s a great way for kids to learn where things really come from.”
This past September, the City of Atlanta officially placed the preserve in charge of managing the property. In exchange, the city absorbs the water costs associated with general upkeep of the garden.
“We paid to get the (water) service established, but they pay for the water,” McCauley said. “It encourages private people to pay for public places.”
On a first come, first served basis, gardeners sign an agreement and pay a $25 annual fee to maintain their plots. As part of that agreement, gardeners are required to grow all crops organically, participate in at least two of the monthly workdays per year and abide by water restrictions enacted by the City of Atlanta.
“Our gardeners are very conscientious,” McCauley said. “We’re asking people to be aware of the conditions and at a minimum follow the rules. We don’t see excessive use of water and the water can’t be left on, either. Until they restrict watering veggies, they can water if they choose too. Some people choose to hold off until it gets better.”
Mowris is no exception to the rule when it comes to water restrictions.
“We’re all trying to be cautious about watering only when necessary,” she said. “This year’s crop has actually been better than last year but not great.”
The current level four drought has impeded to an extent what can be grown, but the ambiance of the garden and the educational opportunities are still plentiful. Currently there is a waiting list in place for gardeners who hope to develop one of the plots.
“We thought it would bring the neighborhood together, something people would really enjoy and appreciate and get them outside,” McCauley said. “It’s been a good thing for the people who have joined. Many are people who don’t have space to garden otherwise, at least not on this scale.”
Girl Scouts Chip In
While the garden has opened the door to new community opportunities, the Buckhead Service Unit of Girl Scouts hopes to create another opportunity on the same site.
Kim McCauley, a troop leader, is actively working with the Girl Scouts to raise the necessary funds to build an open-air pavilion, picnic tables and complimentary trail leading to it.
“(The girls) want to give something back to the community,” Mrs. McCauley said.
Currently the pavilion is only partially funded at about $3,500 of the $7,000 needed to build the 14’ x 20’ cedar structure with a tin roof, picnic tables and trail aside. Some materials and labor have been donated, but ground breaking cannot occur until the project is fully financed.
“The pavilion will serve many purposes,” she said. “(It would provide) shelter from the sun for the gardeners and garden visitors and a community gathering spot. The Girl Scouts will use it for troop meetings, service unit events, ceremonies and (has the potential to be) a great spot for working on many girl scout badges and projects.”
Further information about making a donation to the pavilion project or supporting the Blue Heron Community Garden is available by contacting the McCauley family at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information about the Blue Heron Nature Preserve is available at www.nbca.org/BlueHeron/index.htm, which is part of the web site for the North Buckhead Civic Association.