Monday, August 26, 2013

Norristown's Gardens

People who know me will tell you I like to garden. It's good exercise, I can take a lot of frustrations out on weeds, and I get nice flowers to look at, plus fresh vegetables and herbs, better than any produce I could buy in a store.

In the last couple months, I've met other Norristown gardeners and, as I've driven around town , I've become more conscious of the many, many gardens we have in town. Some are small, maybe no more than a 3x5 grouping of flowers in a front yard, or even just some window boxes and potted plants. Some gardens fill side and/or back yards. Most are nothing fancy--not professionally landscaped, but it's clear that Norristonians love flowers. And quite a few houses also boast  veggie patches in their yards.

I was thinking the other day that Norristown's gardens this year remind me of those in Charleston, SC. If you walk around that city, you see flowers everywhere. Even in the poorest sections, you see window boxes and tiny side gardens that are just beautiful. It's a pleasure to walk around that city.

Many of us descend from immigrants who brought from their native lands a love of gardening and, in many cases, a hands-on knowledge of growing food. My grandfather was a farmer. If you go to Fornance and Tremont Sts, the land between there and Regina Nursing Home was the Salvatore Santangelo farm in the first decades of the 20th century. Even after they moved to East Main, they had a large plot for vegetables and trees with figs and other fruit. I can't take credit for most of my perennial flowers and bushes. My dad planted them, many before I was born. One pink azalea in front of my house is at least 60 years old. (Come to think of it, today's my dad's birthday--he would have been 94--so this is an appropriate blog.)

For a long time, as neighbors moved in on my block, they tore out the old gardens and trees in favor of green grass and nothing else. Now, I'm glad to say, new neighbors are replanting flowers and putting in veggie patches. And have you seen all the sunflowers around town this year? Must be the rain, because they all seem over 12 foot high.

My point is that, if Norristown continues to develop its gardens then, like Charleston, this could be a drawing point for us. We could become the garden spot of Montgomery County. Maybe people would visit just to see our flowers. And maybe we could solve a lot of our poverty-related nutritional issues if we teach our people how to grow their own food.

But it's not going to happen if we keep encouraging developers to build places like Arbor Heights and the proposed development at 1202 Dekalb, where there's no un-paved land--no yards--for each homeowner. "Oh, there ARE gardens," they say. "Rain gardens to help with run-off, and landscaping on the Dekalb side. And a homeowner's association to take care of it."

Sorry, no. Having a homeowner's association do your gardening for you is like having someone else raise your kids. Even if it's well-kept up, it'll look like the boring plantings around a business. No one will come to Norristown to see that. And honestly, I see no guarantee that the landscaping WILL be kept up, or that the rain gardens won't become choked with weeds and fail to stop runoff.

So let's start a movement to promote gardens in Norristown. Maybe we could start with a gardeners' forum, to trade ideas, not to mention cuttings and seeds. How about some workshops around town, beginning in January or February, so residents can start seeds indoors? House calls by experienced gardeners to help homeowners get a garden started? List your ideas below, or tell them to me and I'll add them.

And start saying NO to development without yards, not only for gardens, but where our kids can play.


  1. There was just an article in the Times Hearld today about two brothers on Forest Avenue promoting gardening...

    1. Yes, that's actually what got me thinking about gardens yesterday. Here's the link: