By Jon Cullick
At this time of year, gardens look different from the gardens in our imaginations. Flowers that bloomed just a few short months ago have turned brown. Fruits and vegetables have been long picked and eaten by humans or the local deer. Remnants of stems and leaves lie on soggy ground covered by dead leaves and, if it’s cold enough, occasional splotches of melting ice.
But I found the garden. You can find it, too, just South of Center Avenue between the 400 blocks of Ward and Foote. It is situated between the railroad tracks and Pflueger Alley, in sight of the Loyal Café.
This is Blossom Alley, the Bellevue Community Garden. It is a space that welcomes you.
The Bellevue Community Garden is “a communal gardening space,” as its founder, Bridget Vogt, describes it. Its first growing season was in 2001. Now having completed its fourth summer, the garden is a success and a gem in our city.
If you visit, the space welcomes you. Instead of a fence, an entrance constructed of large tree branches beckons you to enter. This openness is exactly how the garden was designed. Some urban gardens rent quadrants of land to individuals or groups who sow, tend, and reap their own enclosed areas.
The Bellevue Community Garden is different. As Bridget says, “It’s more fun as a community endeavor.” This is a place where members of our community can come together to meet neighbors while they work the land. It is a safe place where kids can interact with adults while they learn gardening skills.
Whether you are eight years old or eighty, an expert or a novice, you are welcome. Whether you are looking for something fun to do with your children or something to do on your own, you are invited. If you have no gardening experience, someone will teach you. This garden is all about inclusiveness. There are no fences here.
Bridget Vogt first got interested in gardening when she was helping her two sons do some planting in their own backyard. She had some conversations about her backyard gardening with others in her neighborhood, and the idea of a community garden began to take shape. Because they had no special training, the group took a community gardening class at the Civic Garden Center.
The next step was to find a suitable plot of land, start-up funds, and volunteers to get the project going.
Many people stepped up to assist. City Council granted a loan of the empty space at the end of Pflueger Alley. Volunteers from Crossroads offered manual labor to clear the space. The Bellevue Neighborhood Association, which serves as the umbrella organization for the Bellevue Community Garden, offered funds and expert advice. Field of Vue Art on Fairfield Avenue donated materials for the compost. Christine Bonenfant and Kirk Mayhew, the artist who created the wood structure that marks the entrance, helped get the garden started and have been there to maintain it. Other Bellevue community members have been contributing materials and time.
Bridget has also successfully applied for two grants from the Campbell County Extension Office, which has made possible the purchase of tools, a tool shed, a hose, and starter seeds.
What does the garden grow? “Anything and everything,” says Bridget. Its produce has included all kinds of vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce, onions, potatoes, squash, okra, cucumbers, chard, spinach, cabbage, eggplant, corn, carrots, and green beans. Fruit has included watermelon, strawberries, and pumpkins as well as peach and apple trees. And they grow flowers, too.
Many children and school groups are involved. Bridget often works with students in the Grandview Elementary After School program. The Daisy Girl Scout Troop painted and decorated four colorful rain barrels that are used to collect water for irrigation. Families and individuals offer help. Bridget remembers a time when the children were harvesting carrots. As they pulled the matured plants up from the ground, the children were excited to discover where carrots come from.
If you would like to get involved, Bridget emphasizes that you don’t have to be an expert. All you need to do is show up ready to work. During the gardening season, there are usually two work sessions per week. Currently, they are set for Thursday evenings at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday mornings at 11:00 a.m.
Recently, City Beat named Blossom Alley the “Best Community Garden” of 2014. They called the garden “amazing” and added, “the garden allows people of all ages to share in the calming joys of harvesting and growing food.”
I am not a gardener, but as a teacher, I see similarities between gardening and teaching. To be a gardener or a teacher, one must be an optimist. One must believe that growth will happen. A gardener, like a teacher, must be a patient nurturer. Gardens and children are filled with possibilities.
Blossom Alley, the Bellevue Community Garden, is a place where you, your neighbors, and your children can learn to grow. That means growing fruit, vegetables, and flowers. It means growing friendships and a sense of community. That is what makes Bellevue’s garden so special.