Thursday, April 5, 2012
A neglected patch of land once sat at the entrance to Seaside on Fremont Boulevard at Canyon Del Rey. Most passersby didn’t notice it. Others probably looked the other way.
When Mary Wilson first moved to Seaside in 1991, though, she immediately spotted it, and thought it looked a bit scruffy. Driving in from Monterey, she also felt it contributed to a distinct difference in the atmospheres of the two towns. To her, the city seemed to lack a certain cheery image.
“In 1991, Seaside couldn’t buy good press,” she says.
But as she settled in, she noticed how charming and friendly the people of Seaside were. Many of her new neighbors introduced themselves and welcomed her and her husband to town, something that had never happened in Pacific Grove, where she used to live.
A few years later, Wilson set her sights on that patch of blighted land – and its eyesore assemblage of weeds, garbage and iceplant. Today it has bloomed into more than just a garden – it’s become a testament to the good an active and involved community can do for a neighborhood.
First Wilson scored a $2,500 grant from the Communities 2000 Program, which gave financial assistance to small neighborhood groups. At a City Council meeting, a developer for what would become the neighboring Walgreens store heard her speak about plans for a volunteer garden and made his own financial contribution.
However, there were some dissenters. Someone told Wilson that a similar project has been attempted before and it didn’t work, that nothing would grow on the hard-scrabble land except palm trees and Hollywood juniper.
That didn’t deter her. In 1997, she gathered enough funding and support to get the project started.
“I wanted to help the city look nicer and foster a little community pride,” she says. “The city might not have the resources to do it, but I’d be proud to go out to an area and fix it up.”
Today, the landscaping looks so natural and perfectly in place, it’s easy to overlook all over again. But if you take the time to stop and smell the shrubbery, the efforts that Wilson and rest of the volunteers have put in over the years become clear. The corner is flush with a variety of native plants.
Nancy Towne, Seaside’s recreation services manager, credits Wilson’s initiative as the genesis for the many other community beautification projects Seaside residents have undertaken. “People refer to that park as an example of what people can do as individuals and small groups,” she says.
It’s been 15 years since the garden project took root. On the third Saturday of the month, Wilson and whoever else she can rally put time into the garden. Volunteers have come and gone over the years, Wilson says, and she’s enjoyed the company of as many as 14 helpers. On other occasions, it’s just Wilson and the weeds.
Catherine Crockett has volunteered at the garden since autumn of 2010. She’d always admired the corner when driving past it. “One Saturday I showed up with my gardening gloves,” she says.
She adds that the feeling of being outdoors – hearing birds chirp while she’s pulling weeds and planting and spreading mulch – is an antidote for the hours she spends in front of a computer at work.
On her first day in the garden, Crockett was welcomed by a throng of volunteers who’d turned up to restore a part of the garden that had been bulldozed by Cal Am for an underground valve repair.
“At one point I was digging a hole for a plant and my shovel hit a big rock. Within a few seconds, someone was there with a pickaxe to help dislodge it,” she says. “I left there feeling a real sense of community.”
Impressively enough, the drought-resistant garden doesn’t get any water other than what falls from the sky. (Originally they tried a drip irrigation system, but gophers chewed the lines.) In addition to hearty and resilient California natives, the garden features South African and Australian plants that do well without extra water or fertilizer.
Wilson’s pleased about the other volunteer beautification projects that have sprung up in Seaside, like the Obama Way Community Garden and the upgrades to Martin, Highland-Otis and Metz parks. “It’s grown into a movement,” she says. “People are doing this on their own.”
THE SEASIDE GREEN TEAM meets at the corner garden at Fremont and Canyon Del Rey in Seaside, usually the third Saturday of each month. For more information, firstname.lastname@example.org