Tales From The Garden: A Conversation With One Of Jamestown’s Unsung Heroes

Mary Maxwell tends a flower garden at the corner of Fairmount and McDaniel Avenues to improve the appearance for passersby and for the people living in the neighborhood. She hopes others will realize they can improve their neighborhoods by planting gardens or picking up trash, something she has done for 30 years.

As I was traveling over Fairmount Avenue a few days ago I noticed a woman on her knees, tending a flower garden. The garden didn’t appear to belong to her, because it wasn’t in a front yard, but on a corner that displayed two or three large billboards. I was compelled to not only get information on the garden, but to express my gratitude to the woman for her willingness to improve what appeared to be someone else’s property. I drove around the block, parking on a side street, as there was no parking at the busy corner of McDaniel Avenue.

Just as I suspected, this was an act of love, a desire to make her city a little more attractive for passersby and a little more pleasant for the people that resided in that neighborhood.

As I stood inquiring, A.J. DeBose came by on his bike, his second visit.

“I told her she should grow vegetables and fruit so people could take healthy food,” said the 12-year-old.

“When he was here earlier he tried a piece of lettuce that had reseeded from last year,” said the gardener.

“It was really good,” he said and went on to talk about healthy eating. “I make smoothies for breakfast every morning with strawberries, blueberries, milk and protein powder. They keep me energized for school and I love school so much. For an after school snack I eat veggies to keep me energized to play with my friends. I just love gardens and stuff.”

“Originally there were 15 rose bushes and we started referring to it as the Rose Garden,” says Mary Maxwell. “It was started for Gateways to Jamestown by Peter Lombardi. He contracted Bloomquist’s Landscaping to put in the garden. There was no real sustainability program planned. Several bushes had died from the salt. I kept looking at it and decided to let that section go.”

“Half of my job with Jamestown Renaissance Corporation as a Neighborhood Project Associate is to help beautify Jamestown through growing things. In 2013 I was sent to the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program. One requirement to maintain the status is 50 hours of volunteer work. I submitted my idea of trying to save the Rose Garden and it was accepted. I started edging and weeding. The soil was really poor.”

By inquiring and being resourceful she started the turn-around. She found she was able to reclaim some soil from Mike’s Nursery, which has helped improve the quality of the Rose Garden’s soil. Other Master Gardeners contributed items they had been able to procure. Sharon Reed shared some of the flower bulbs donated by Sam’s Club. Janet Forbes has developed a program where she picks up leftover seedling plants from greenhouses. One hundred thirty-five flats of vegetable seedlings were given to Mrs. Maxwell.

“I try to give them to community gardeners and non-profits and we leave them on the walkway outside the office and they find homes,” she says. “Last year I planted a few in the Rose Garden; kale, cauliflower, lettuce and one pumpkin. I added a sign that said, ‘This food is free’ and people could take it.”

“LaMar, owners the property, have let us do this as long as we don’t grow anything tall. They’ve been very supportive.”

The Master Gardener signed up for an online class through Cornell University called Civic Ecology.

“It helped me with the vocabulary. There are two times when people try to help the ecology when things go bad. One is called Red Zone. This is when the citizens come forward to help the government clean up things after a disaster. The other is Slow Burn Zone, when things deteriorate slowly and there comes a time when people will step in to help without being asked. They just start doing it. Jamestown is a Slow Burn Zone,” she informs. “It was a wonderful class.”

Mrs. Maxwell has picked up trash in her neighborhood for 30 years and confesses that she was inspired to continue after hearing Dan Meyers, owner of Secret Garden Flower Shop on Buffalo Street, speak in her group.

“I learned he had been picking up trash for many years and I was encouraged to keep doing it. People are quietly doing this all over town. I’m doing this flower garden to give people the idea that they could do this or pick up the trash in front of their house or on their street. I’m glad I ended up here (Jamestown Renaissance Corporation), because I’m associated with people who think that way.”

On May 20 the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is sponsoring Hands On Jamestown. Mrs. Maxwell encourages people to join the community-wide effort to help clean up the beautiful city of Jamestown. Refreshments will be served at Jamestown City Hall prior to the event from 8-8:45 a.m. Register online and check out the interactive map at: www.jamestownrenaissance.org/handsonjamestown/. Participants are encouraged to wear a highly visible shirt, hoodie or jacket, a Hands On Jamestown shirt from previous years or a shirt that has been decorated for their own group. For more information call 664-2477 ext. 226 or email Christina@jamestownr enaissance.org.

“Last year we had 800 volunteers pick up trash, rake or help their neighbor and that is civic ecology! There is a neighborhood on Lakeview Avenue where the neighbors took over the corner and started a beautiful little garden. The Hotchkiss Street neighborhood cleaned up an area at the end of Marvin Parkway where people were dumping trash, including TVs. There are people all over town that are doing things.”