Thursday, October 12, 2000

A big idea

Gardening in the style of Lucille

        This is just a little story. It starts with a few flowers planted by an old woman under her bay window. Ruth Davidson, who manages the Colonial Village Apartments, remembers that first year.

        Pink petunias, blue ageratum, a few marigolds, she thinks. Very nice against the pink brick of the building. And she remembers Lucille Delaney, of course.

        “A lovely woman,” she says. “Quality.” Mrs. Delaney died in 1992 when she was in her 90s.

        Dorothy Hensgen picked up the trowel, so to speak.

        Also a lady of a certain age, Mrs. Hensgen thought Mrs. Delaney was “so very considerate, such a good neighbor.” And it just seemed right somehow to tend the little plot, which kept growing.

        In every sense of the word.

Complex neighborhoods
        The Colonial Village complex, built in 1948 for returning World War II veterans, looks almost the way it did more than 50 years ago. Copper gutters and flashing have weathered to a lovely verdigris. But the brick is solid, even over the decorative arches, and the cream trim freshly painted. Good, big trees.

        Officially, the complex is in Roselawn. If you cross the street — Seymour Avenue — you're in Bond Hill. These are neighborhoods of racial diversity, complexity and character. Aging neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that could use support now and then. Neighborhoods worth some attention.

        This particular area has had its share of good news lately. The U.S. Postal Service is bringing its West End distribution center here. A new $9 million church is being built on the edge of Swifton Commons. A nice Kroger. A new Walgreens.

        And Lucille Delaney's garden.

        Besides Mrs. Hensgen, gardeners now include Fred Williams, who is studying to be a minister, and Philip Boucher, an actor who works in a warehouse to put food on the table. They are joined by John Rozier, who ushers at Reds games, and Diane McCleary, who works at Good Samaritan Hospital.

        “They look out for each other,” Ruth says. “When I see these people, I just think this is the way the world should be.”

        You don't just mean the flowers, right, Ruth?

        “No, I mean how they are with each other.”

        She sighs.

        “But the flowers are lovely, too.”

Entirely glorious
        Right now, the entire front of this particular building is a tangle of pink impatiens, purple mums, asters and vinca vines along with snapdragons and ornamental grass. Even a cactus or three. Fred planted a rose bush, which is making its tentative way up a new trellis. The matter-of-fact diversity is entirely glorious.

        Out of nowhere, some chairs appeared. They are not courtesy of building management, as the garden is an entirely unsubsidized endeavor. This is not to say that the people who work on it could not use help from time to time with the heavy lifting.

        The proprietors of this garden and of Mrs. Delaney's memory are racially mixed and no longer young, a reflection of the neighborhoods that surround them. Lucille's gardeners have generously planted their flowers in front of the building for everybody to see. Good neighbors.

        “It kind of lifts the whole place,” Ruth says.

        Well, yes it does.

        A little garden.

        A little story.

        But not a small idea.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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