For years, I have driven past the flower garden at Laramie and Maypole. Sometimes, when the light at Maypole turned red, I got a little more time to look at the flowers. Though I couldn’t see the whole garden, what I could see I enjoyed very much.
One summer day, I saw an elderly woman raking the ground. I wanted to stop and talk with her, but I didn’t. I wanted to know who had created the garden, and I wanted to walk through it.
Last month, I got a chance to meet the person responsible for the flower garden.
Mrs. Rose McNutt, an Austin resident, made a promise, some years past, to her husband and neighbors, that became a flower garden. The promise started when an empty city lot became a mountain of junk cars, grease cans, rusty tools, paper, and rubbish of all kinds.
Neighborhood young men worked on their cars and drank beer on the lot. When they couldn’t fix their cars, they left the cars, the empty beer containers, and other trash. This went on for years.
Mrs. McNutt told her husband and neighbors that she was going to do something about the lot. At the time, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the lot. Her neighbors would laugh and ask, “Do you think you can perform a miracle?” Her husband had his doubts too.
Following her husband’s death in 1995, Mrs. McNutt retired from her job and asked the City of Chicago to come out and clear the lot. She asked the guys not to repair their cars on the lot. But they didn’t stop until the City of Chicago cleared the lot.
In 1996, she went to school to learn gardening at the Green Corp. Landscape School. She learned about bulbs and seeds. She learned how to plant flowers in the best location for light and shade. She learned the names of the flowers and how to recognize them. She was told there were organizations that could help her get the flower garden started.
Mrs. McNutt said she got help from the Austin Green Team, Open Land, the City of Chicago, and Neighborhood Space. By the spring of 1998, the junky lot on Laramie and Maypole became The Peace In the Valley Garden.
The land consists of two lots enclosed with fencing on all sides. There is a gate on the Laramie Street side to enter the garden. On a warm April day, Mrs. McNutt and I stepped into the flower garden. I had a positive and negative feeling about the flower garden. At the beginning of the garden near the Laramie fence, I smiled because the white and yellow daffodils and purple tulips had just bloomed, but next to them were weeds that made me feel sad.
As we strolled down the red and black dirt path, I felt a little pain when we reached the clematis vine. It stood loose and stiff away from the slender trunk of a cane tree it was supposed to climb. A few purple flowers appeared on the vine.
In the center of the flower garden there are two long green benches at either side of a flowerbed. We sat and talked. Mrs. McNutt said she wanted tar covering over the red and black dirt path to keep the weeds out of the flowerbeds. Also, she mentioned to me that she noticed people parking their cars and getting out to take pictures of the garden or walk through.
That might have been a few years ago when the garden was at its peak. Now, the condition is poor and it needs rehabilitation and people who will maintain it. Mrs. McNutt told me about the Moses Burning Bush, named after the bush that appeared to Moses in Exodus 3:2. It turns a bright red in the fall of the year she said. The bush made me think of how little nature is appreciated. In my backyard, whenever a waxy yellow daffodil peeps up over the snow, I believe God wants to get my attention.
After a while, we continued our walk to the end of the garden. On the north side by the back fence, there are three vegetables beds. I asked Mrs. McNutt what vegetable she grows. She said, “Everything including butter beans, squash, and white potatoes. I grow white potatoes to show my grandchildren where a white potato comes from.”
I was disheartened when I left. I hope the flower garden I’ve admired for so many years can be restored to its original glory.