Sunday, April 29, 2001

Park brings green to lot

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Kay Steinmetz moved to Prospect Hill in 1998, East Liberty Street below her home was a mess.

        Debris, weeds and honeysuckle marred the slope between Calcars used car lot at Reading Road and Greater Fellowship Baptist Church at Liberty Hill Lane.

        Slime oozed across the sidewalk from a broken drain and forced her and her Great Pyrenees dog, Bear, into the street.

[photo] Wanda Baker works on the Liberty Green Garden on East Liberty Street in Mount Auburn. The park opens to the public today.
(Enquirer photo)
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        Today at 2 p.m., that same 700-foot stretch of abandoned Mount Auburn hillside opens as Liberty Green Garden. Liberty Green is a work in progress by volunteers, Hamilton County juvenile work details, Cincinnati Public Works and Park Board employees, and mini-grants from Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and Firstar bank.

Help on several fronts

        Along the way, Ms. Steinmetz and co-workers learned some urban lessons:

        • Don't mess with an aggressive, unleashed dog pacing atop a retaining wall where you want to work.

        • Don't plant flowering geraniums just before Mother's Day and expect them to be there Monday.

        • Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.

        Cleanup was one thing; creating an urban garden was another. Ms. Steinmetz needed skilled help. To her delight, almost everyone said yes or directed her to someone who said yes.

        A pivotal event was the arrival of the first juvenile work crew three years ago Saturday. Subsequent work details continue to do much of the clearing.

    • What: Opening of Liberty Green Garden.
    • When: 2-4 p.m. today.     • Where: On East Liberty between Liberty Hill Lane and Reading Road, Mount Auburn.
        Cincinnati's Public Works staff provides waste containers for cleanup.

        Park Board employees offer expertise, extra trees and flowers, and mulch without being asked.

        Even so, Ms. Steinmetz recalled, “I was overwhelmed by the scope of this project.”

Gardeners' expertise

        Last year, Ms. Steinmetz took the master gardener class offered locally by the extension services of Ohio State University and University of Kentucky.

        In addition to gaining new botanical smarts, she joined the network of graduates who must volunteer their talents to win and retain certification as master gardeners.

        Equally important, Bobbi Strangfeld, the Greater Cincinnati coordinator of the master gardener program, approved the Liberty Street project as the first urban site where volunteers can earn certification credit.

        That involved Pam Brunck, a master gardener from Wyoming.

        “It's a little jewel,” Mrs. Brunck said as she and Ms. Steinmetz hauled a hollow pine log into place as a planter. As the site was cleared, Ms. Steinmetz and her co-workers drew up a planting plan for what she'd named Liberty Green Garden.

        “A plan doesn't work when you get donations,” Ms. Steinmetz said. “We always say yes to everything. You have to be flexible.”

        That's where the small kindnesses come in.

        When Park Board employees can't drive by with a tanker, water must be carried in buckets and cans from Ms. Steinmetz's home or the Calcars lot.

        Bear, whose walks drew Ms. Steinmetz to East Liberty Street, died. “His ashes are under that dogwood over there,” she said.

        Liberty Green Garden was untouched by rioters, but not immune, Ms. Steinmetz said. “We lost volunteers. Suburban men don't want their cars down here. They don't want their wives down here.”

        That fear is unjustified, Mrs. Brunck said.

        “I can come down here and do anything I want,” Ms. Steinmetz said. “We're going to continue what we doing and it's good.”

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