By Elizabeth Dinan
Published in SeacoastOnline
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September 02, 2013

PORTSMOUTH — In a corner of Gosling Meadows — a public housing neighborhood known for police calls, not botanical gardens — Mary Shaw and her neighbor, Kim Hart, have grown a sanctuary of flower and vegetable beds.

Their bitty back yards abut a gas station and a high-volume intersection — unlikely backdrops for their 10-foot sunflowers, rows of fruit-heavy tomato plants, and yards of morning glory vines sprouting dozens of purple flowers each morning.

"You walk around the corner and it's like you're in paradise," Shaw said.

"It makes it so it doesn't look like we live in housing," Hart added. "We do this on a limited budget."

A generation apart in age, but geographical abutters, Shaw, the elder, and Hart began beautifying their corner of "The Meadows" three years ago. Shaw was given a fistful of morning glory seeds from her fiance's mother, and she planted and nurtured them to twist and flower all over a chain-link fence separating her little yard from Gosling Road.

After the flowers died, Shaw collected the buds, dried them in paper bags, removed the seeds, then planted them the next spring. The process has been repeated seasonally and this year, two sections of metal fence are camouflaged by vines that sprout dozens of new blue flowers every morning.

Two bags of their seeds have already been collected this season to be put away until next year.

"I like your fence, Mary," said a neighbor pushing a baby in a stroller past Shaw's blossoming floral display.

"What do you call those flowers again?" asked a young male neighbor walking by.

Shaw said many drivers idling in front of her home while waiting for the traffic light to turn green will roll down their windows and ask how she gets her hydrangeas so blue, or her corn stalks so tall. A waiting trucker who asked, "How's the garden going?" was given a fresh-picked cucumber, she said.

On small patches of land, boosted by their own compost, the woman are nurturing a seemingly impossible variety of homegrown foods. There are corn stalks, strawberry plants, melons, squash, carrots, broccoli, snap peas and cucumbers. In the same small space, tomatoes of the cherry and beefsteak varieties are producing bumper crops.

A shot at growing lettuce was thwarted by hungry rabbits, and the watermelon seed Hart bought wound up growing squash plants instead.

"We have so much we give it to people," Hart said. "Last year, we had 10 families we gave vegetables to."

On either side of Shaw's two stoops, she has grown hydrangea bushes that she has adorned with morning glory vines and towering sunflowers.

"See? You can sit on the steps and have complete privacy," she said, demonstrating. "No one can see you."

The plants have brought in butterflies and finches, and there are so many dragonflies, Hart said, her daughter, Lizzie, chases them around and tries to catch them.

While a tractor-trailer motored loudly along Gosling Road, Hart pulled a carrot out of the ground, while Shaw grabbed and opened a pod for popping peas raw and garden-side.

"If it comes out of the garden, it tastes totally different" than supermarket produce, Shaw said. "I love it. I come out here and grab a cucumber and make a sandwich."

The women said next spring, they will expand their side-by-side vegetable plots by another 3 feet. Hart said she wants to take another shot at trying to grow watermelon.

"It's something to do," Hart said. "We walk by the bins in the neighborhood on recycling day and see all the liquor bottles and we ask, 'Why?'"

Photo by Ioanna Raptis - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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