Mr. Lewis Sharpe started the Duncan Street Miracle Garden in 1989; today--along with the twenty or so urban garderner/farmers he hosts each summer on his city soil plots--the space lives as an example of a successful, long-term urban public-space project. In a neighborhood (down North Avenue toward Rt. 95) devastated by a culture of drugs and violence (during a summer cleanup of the garden this year volunteers weeded out dozens of crack vials and a few heroin needles from the perimeter fence), the community garden stands as an urban oasis--it's vibrant flora of fruit trees, perrenial flowers and bushes, and annual fruits and vegetables seem to have been dropped from the sky on the plot (a collection of city blocks the city lends to Mr. Sharpe and others). What we know from the work of decades of patient, diligent soil generation, though, is the opposite: Duncan Street grew up from below.
The word palimpsest (which I've heard used to describe the geological layering of the architecture of old cities) came to mind when I squatted low in the small path that runs between the long, rectangular plots of soil Mr. Sharpe loans out to his gardeners each year--in one particularly successful plot, the rich, black stuff sat atop the concrete like a tremendous brownie. From its surface sprouted neat green rows of green beans, swiss chard, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash.
At the time of this discovery, I'd--along with a few other MICAns--just begun my own gardening experiment back at school behind the Buddha statute. Having toured the city and its surround with the Hugh Pocock's Urban Farming class, I found the Miracle Street Garden to be the most mature, developed, and successful project of its kind. From within it there emanated the signs of a tremendous patience--the kind of attitude that I had romanticized for a life in the countryside. Here, though, in a part of town I'd avoided, to be sure, because of color barriers, my expectations--and their reductionist paradigms--exploded in the face of a place strangely undefinable. Not simply urban, suburban, or rural alone, the space melted into a hybridity yet fully examined by any theory I've come across. The particular character, for certain, of this garden seemed somehow unjaded by the simple, repetitive movements required for its maintenance; undaunted by the challenge of the scattered neighborhood that made its borders. It was a project without ideology, without documentation, without shine. It's documentation is there, in the dirt, for anyone to see.
I stood for a time staring at the brownie and the green things exploding from its surface. Through the layers of vegetation, I then witnessed something even more extraordinary: from behind a dense wall of cucumber vines, a small metal triangle emerged, gently but firmly prying a new row of earth open as it traveled in small rhythmic circles. I ducked down further below the raised plot, kneeling behind a trellised grape vine, afraid the operator of the tool would alter the grace of his movement at the sight of me. For a long time, I watched as he moved steadily--slowly pulling the wooden-handled hoe into the layer of soil just beneath the surface, severing the newly-germinated weed sprouts before they ever had a chance to reach the sunlight.