Repurposing a rose garden for maximum community impact

Repurposing a rose garden for maximum community impact

It’s been talked about for several years and is a fond wish of Avondale residents Jake Ingram and Victoria Freeman, two among many well-known gardeners. Thanks to two local groups, Ingram, Freeman and others with green thumbs will see their wish take root and, eventually, bear fruit.

Area residents review and vote on designs for a community garden proposed for the current Willowbranch Rose Garden on Park Street

Area residents review and vote on designs for a community garden proposed for the current Willowbranch Rose Garden on Park Street

Earlier this year, the Emerging Design Professionals group – a Young Architects Forum under the American Institute of Architects – approached Riverside Avondale Preservation asking whether there was a project in which the group could be involved. With the Riverside Dog Park well underway, RAP executive director Carmen Godwin enlisted Susan Fraser, a landscape architect by education, to head up a team for a community garden.

Fraser pinpointed the Willowbranch Rose Garden, on Park Street between Mallory and Azalea, as the likely spot. “It’s faded from its former glory,” said Fraser, of the rose park that was established by the Jacksonville Rose Society in 1955, from a parcel of the Willowbranch Park.

Fraser said her initial thoughts were simple. “It could be an ordinary fenced lot or an arbor, but I thought, ‘no we want this to be a community space.’”

Enter Brandon Pourch, president of Emerging Design Professionals, and three other landscape designers – Julia Epstein, Dorina Bakiri and Kimberly Patrie. Fraser offered a carrot; it wasn’t just an exercise in design, it was going to be built. “We want the winner to grab a posthole digger and help build it. We asked them who they would like to have judge it and they selected very well-respected people in the community,” she said.

The judges were Melody Bishop, Doug Lane, Dr. Wayne Wood and Angela Schifanella, who liked all five of the designs submitted for community voting at the RAP Home Tour. “The judges said ‘They all have really good pieces and we don’t want to discard any of them,’” Fraser said. The judges challenged the designers to refine their designs and come back in mid-June for a final selection. The winner will see the project through, helping with the application.

• Private investment in public space •

Preliminary site plan for  proposed community garden

Preliminary site plan for
proposed community garden

The planned community garden will require a City-recognized entity to handle insurance and water bills. According to Fraser, RAP will be the parent organization, but it will be a community effort to develop and maintain the garden. “This is an investment in a public space [by private citizens],” she stated. “The members who own the plots will create the entity that manages it.”

The winning design needs to be context sensitive to the historic district. The judges will make sure the designs meet all of the criteria and design regulations to get a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission.

If we get the designs in June we think we can turn the design plans around in 30 days, then get it put on the agenda,” Fraser said

optimistically. “While we’re doing that, I’ll round up community for fundraising.” The goal is to open in October for the first planting season for the winter.

She’s already talked to merchants willing to donate material, paint, wood, mulch, compost and who might have a vested interest in seeing how their product holds up, such as stain or paint. Other avenues to raise funds include grants that help gardens, individual plot fees, buy-a-brick opportunities and component sponsors.

There is no lack of interest among residents.

“We have a waiting list for people who want to have a plot, so if it becomes big enough we can make a bigger plot on the whole block,” Fraser stated. It is currently planned for 40 plots, and they will not be limited to vegetables. Plots can include grape arbors, flowers; beds will be designated for certain kinds of planting, determined by the membership-driven co-op board. There will be limits on height. “We will have to ensure that someone doesn’t plant something that shades another garden that needs sun.”

Fraser envisions the final design will include a fence for security, ADA accessibility with higher beds for people who need to sit or stand, perhaps a common space for educational events, such as gardening tips by experts.

“So many people have gotten it to this stage,” she said. “We have enough people who have joined us that it won’t be just one person carrying it forward. The goal is to get people who are experts and novices in gardening.”

Next Steps

A community meeting will be hosted later this month to reveal the winner of the garden design contest and to provide more information about the steps required to kick off the construction efforts. If you would like to be contacted by email about the meeting details, please call the Riverside Avondale Preservation office at (904) 389-2449.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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