“East Edge Gardeners” Claim Edgewood

Thomas MacMillan PhotoA new inkberry bush took root at the corner of Ellsworth and Edgewood avenues, the latest of 16 years of plants that have shown up on Edgewood Avenue thanks to a gang of local gardeners.

The little inkberry was planted by a crew known as the East Edge Gardeners. Like members of other gangs, they hang out on street corners in the warmer months. For over 15 years, the East Edge Gardeners have been marking their territory, staking claim to the strip of greenery that runs for six blocks between the east- and westbound portions of Edgewood Avenue.

While other cliques might use spray paint, the East Edge Gardeners have an unconventional way to rep their set: decorative plants.

A visit to the corner of the Ellsworth and Edgewood last Wednesday afternoon found a half-dozen East Edge Gardeners armed with shovels and rakes and hand trowels, with a barrow of mulch at the ready.

The East Edge Gardeners are affiliated with the Urban Resources Initiative’s (URI) Community Greenspace program, which supports about 60 neighborhood groups to beautify small plots of public space throughout the city, from Newhallville’s Lilac Street to Chatham Square in Fair Haven and Rosette Street in the Hill.

Stephanie Fitzgerald (at left in top photo) said the group has been meeting on Wednesday afternoons in the spring, summer, and fall for years. The group maintains 11 flower beds along the Edgewood Avenue mall, from Pendleton Street to Norton Street.

Fitzgerald, who’s been with the group since the start, pointed out a new inkberry bush she had just planted. She and Sandy Shaner (pictured), another member, pointed out yellow daylilies, purple salvia, Russian sage, and purple cone flower—all perennials the gardeners maintain.

Fitzgerald said the gardeners number about nine, each of whom shows up whenever schedules allow. People in the neighborhood seem to approve of their work, she said. “People honk their horns and wave,” she said.

Cathy Roy appeared and began trimming the tops off the purple salvia, to force it to flower a second time. She said she finds gardening relaxing, and it always “feels good to drive down Edgewood and see our work.”

Shaner uncovered a big hunk of concrete that Ray Sitar (pictured), who’s 70, hefted out of the plot. He said he’s been with the gardeners for nine or 10 years. He says he does it for the “psychic satisfaction.”

“It’s nice to see the flowers grow,” he said.

Occasionally the gardeners also see trash dumped. On Wednesday, an old TV set sly near one of their plots. Down the street, two big brown couches had been discarded on the grass. Fitzgerald said she calls the city and asks them to haul bulk trash away whenever it appears.

“They do great work,” URI’s Chris Ozyck said of the East Edge Gardeners, one of the oldest of the city’s greenspace groups. “They’re one of our more independent groups.”

Ozyck said URI is working with the police department on a study of the Greenspace’s effect on crime. Planting trees, for instance, can make a neighborhood cooler, which might reduce violence when “cooler heads prevail,” Ozyck said.

Gardening also creates and strengthens “social cohesiveness,” he said. Neighbors that garden together can tackle neighborhood problems together—like keeping gangs off the street corners.

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posted by: Curious on July 1, 2013  12:59pm

This is great, and Ozyck is a tremendous resource.

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on July 1, 2013  3:38pm

How about the dump stays open for 2 full days on Saturday and Sunday, and the office for coupon distribution is on-site (or even better tracked electronically and accessed by showing your drivers license)? 

It has to be cheaper than constantly having crews running around the city to pick up illegally dumped materials.

posted by: nancycy on July 1, 2013  4:35pm

We know that summer is really here when the Gardener of the Week feature returns! Thanks for these reminders of New Haven’s green thumbs and green spaces.

posted by: John Fitzpatrick on July 2, 2013  1:20pm

Hats off to East Edge Gardeners! They make the Edgewood Mall a truly special place and serve as a great inspiration to other Community Greenspace groups. By making our neighborhood beautiful, they make our lives better. Thank you!