Garden/art tour makes University City neighborhoods warmer

04/05/2013 12:00 AM

04/02/2013 2:24 PM

You won’t find the Triangle Garden on any list of botanical gardens to visit this spring. But you should visit it anyway.

It’s not so much for the flowers. The small patch of land that connects the Grove Park and Ravenwood neighborhoods has a simple flowerbed on each point of the triangular-shaped plot. Before the neighbors did that, it was just a neglected mini-meadow the city occasionally mowed.

But the Triangle Garden is a gateway into some of University City’s lushest private residential gardens. On April 14 the Grove Park-Ravenwood Garden Club is opening seven of them for its annual self-guided spring garden and art tour.

Augie Beasley, an 18-year Grove Park resident, started the free tour five years ago as a way to meet others in the small community.

“I just wanted to get to know the neighbors,” said Beasley, a retired teacher with a penchant for both gardening and the lost art of face-to-face conversation.

Beasley grew up in Columbia, Ga., with fond memories of neighbors, friends, relatives, even strangers stopping by for a glass of lemonade and a casual conversation in the family’s flower garden.

“In Augie’s mind, Sunday afternoons in the South were for people to sit in each other’s gardens to visit, have lemonade and get to know each other,” said Mary-Ellen Jones, who moved to Grove Park from Washington, D.C., 16 years ago.

It’s no accident that the tour takes place every year on a Sunday afternoon.

Jones, who also serves as chairperson of the Grove Park-Ravenwood Garden Club – a 25-member club she started seven years ago – liked his idea.

The two neighborhoods, Grove Park and Ravenwood, are sandwiched together but really are considered one by both. They are filled with the kinds of beautiful spring gardens that Beasley remembered seeing on his street growing up.

Developed in the 1950s, the neighborhoods are heavily wooded with the kinds of mature trees that raise a canopy over most of its streets in the summer. Several small lakes – most with at least one weatherworn rowboat beached on the shore – dot the area. Most houses come with at least a half-acre of land.

“It’s stunning. It’s a beautiful place to live,” said Mimi Davis, who moved into the neighborhood in 2005 from Oklahoma. “Gardening is great in here.”

As it turns out, so are the people.

“It’s a very diverse neighborhood, with all types of people,” said Jones. “We have a number of professors. We have people from various countries and cultures. We have a number of artists as well.”

Several of the neighborhoods’ artists, such as potter Becky Story, will have art stops along the tour to sell their works. Story’s stop will feature pieces from several potters at terra4m, a group for artists who work in clay.

“Potters and gardeners have a lot in common,” said Story. “They work with the earth in one way or the other.”

Jones hopes others outside the neighborhood who visit their gardens during the tour will consider taking a lesson from the event back to their own neighborhoods.

The tour, she said, has changed their neighborhoods for the better.

Five years earlier, when she walked through her neighborhood, Jones said, she knew very few of its residents. Today she knows most of them.

“It’s a warmer, friendlier neighborhood,” said Jones.

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