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From Gravel to Garden of Possibilities

Earlier this year the Asheville City Council kicked off a community garden program.  Residents can claim and garden a spot on vacant plots across the city.  It’s a green dream for one group of locals who live downtown and have been eyeing an empty lot in their front yard.  BPR’s Helen Chickering reports.

“This is curly kale.”

On a warm sunny afternoon, Barbara Gravelle,  is giving a garden tour.  Pots of herbs and flowers are lined up against a chain link fence that encloses a big gravel lot where the sister cities building once stood on Page avenue, in Downtown Asheville. 

“This is spinach.”

It’s a  little green oasis on a busy city block. Our tour guide, Barbara  Gravelle lives in senior housing across the street, and has been gardening this spot for years.  Soon neighbor Melvin Smith wanders over to lend a hand.

“ The bottom of this pot needs to breathe,” says Smith.

The two are part of a thriving neighborhood volunteer beautification effort, spearheaded by the uptown senior gardening group, Elder and Sage, Clare Hanrahan is one of the group’s organizers.

“ I realized when I moved here nothing but cigarettes butts and dog feces a lot of us are gardeners with no access to dirt or earth, so we began by just  putting seeds in the cracks and widening gaps in the asphalt,  and  trying to bring flowers and life,” says Hanrahan.

Evidence of their work is everywhere, plants and flowers shooting up through cracks and crevices, down the street and around the fence that wraps the vacant lot, a spot the group has been dying to get their green thumbs into.

“We just decided we’d work all the edges until we could move into the center,  you know.” Says Hanrahan.  

“Gorilla gardening,” Gravelle chimes in, “A  lot of it’s done at night!”

But that just changed.  In April, the city council announced the lot would be one of four plots open to community gardening; part of the Asheville edibles project, Elder and Sage became the first participants in the program.”

“We are stoked to have such a gung ho grassroots movement apply for this location. Clare and her group are inspirational.”

Haley Mahoney is with the  Asheville Office of Sustainability.

“ Our hope that what is going to happen is that this will be a demonstration garden,” says Mahoney,  “When it’s done to really show people this is how you do it. This is how you bring your community together”   

HC: Do you have plans? I look over here and see lots of gravel.

“We have people that work with us designing ideas to work with the gravel, “ says  Barbara Gravelle.

People like Pankho Bermejo, who is  going to help build raised bed using wood from palettes

“We want to look for every possibility, to make something good for this space.” Says Bermejo.

The City Program allows flowers, edibles and encourages plants that attract pollinators, which is music to the ears of Bee City’s Phyllis Stiles.

“Boy, I love this effort, and this is what we promote all across the country, starting with Bee City USA, here in Asheville because we believe every patch of land can be pollinator habitat.” says Stiles.

The city will host workshops and events to encourage citizens to adopt a gardening plot - and you can always stop by Page Avenue – where former guerilla gardeners are is transforming an empty gravel lot into green space.

For BPR News, I’m Helen Chickering.

The community gardens program will be highlighted during a June 10 kickoff event at the Southside Community Garden, 133 Livingston St. From 4 to 6 p.m., everyone is invited to come tour this community garden and learn about resources to craft similar gardens. There will be a DIY garden bed demonstration, information on how to get involved, free pollinator seeds, lots of discussion and cookies and lemonade.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.