Columbus, Ohio USA
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Martha Walker Garden Club
Nature and Community
by Karen Edwards
April 2009

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There’s a saying in Maine: “If you can’t take our winters, you don’t deserve our summers.” It may be hard-bitten Yankee philosophy, but there’s truth in it. Winter deepens an appreciation for spring and summer in a way those living in more moderate climates will never understand. There, season passes into season seamlessly, imperceptibly. In Maine and here in Columbus, however, seasons snap into place with stark contrasts. One minute, you’re gazing through frosted windows at a sparkling white landscape framed by bare, black tree branches and the next, the window is lifted and you’re admiring flowers in Easter egg colors rimming a bed of Technicolor green grass. “I’m here,” shouts spring with unnecessary flourish.

In the Short North, Victorian Village and Italian Village spring arrives in a jewel-box collection of tiny pocket parks and urban gardens that bounce to life like pages turned in a children’s pop-up book. For this, you can credit the professionals and dedicated volunteers of the Martha Walker Garden Club. (For those who don’t know, Martha Walker was a former Short North resident who owned a good deal of property in the area.)

No ordinary club
But take note – the Martha Walker Garden Club is not your grandmother’s garden club. For one thing, it counts more male members than female, an oddity as most garden clubs slant heavily female. And this garden club is more resource oriented, dispensing primarily materials and know-how. Volunteers from the neighborhood provide the labor.

“We only have two staff members,” explains Christie Nohle, a garden club trustee and landscape professional. Nohle owns Urban Gardener, a garden and landscape consulting business – and once a brick-and-mortar shop in the Short North’s north end.

Nohle and the club’s paid staff work to maintain parks and gardens all over the Short North and its neighborhoods – including the Second Avenue Elementary School garden, the walk-through garden between Mt. Pleasant and Say Avenues in Italian Village, and Christopher Columbus Park, located at the intersection of Warren and Hamlet Streets. The Martha Walker Garden Club also helps the Amicis of Italian Village Park keep their green space at the corner of Hubbard and Kerr Avenues looking fresh and tidy.

“The city health department also contracts with us to clean and mow vacant lots in the neighborhood,” Nohle says.

So if the Martha Walker Garden Club relies on volunteers, it’s understandable. And the model works here because the Short North, Victorian and Italian Villages are communities full of people happy to push up their sleeves and pitch in on civic projects.

Of course, the club provides incentives from time to time. “We host what we call ‘Weed and Feed’ events,” says Nohle. Volunteers and area residents who show up on designated days and times to help weed the garden will be fed by the club. “And there is usually wine,” says Nohle.

Italian Village President Larry Totzke and his wife are two regulars at the club’s Weed and Feed events at the Mt. Pleasant walk-through garden. “It’s a garden right up the street from our house, and I feel a civic obligation to help Martha Walker take care of it,” says Totzke, adding he benefits from the experience as well. “In addition to Christie, there are other serious gardeners who help with the Weed and Feed,” he says. “My wife and I have been given any number of good gardening tips from them, like what plants work well together, which ones like shade or sun, or wet or dry soil. We also get an idea about plants we don’t have much experience with but are considering adding to our garden.”

The Mt. Pleasant garden
Recently, Scott’s Miracle-Gro Co. awarded the Martha Walker Garden Club a $3,000 grant to help in the “beautification efforts for Italian Village through gardening” – and most of that money will be used for the Mt. Pleasant walk-through garden.

If you’ve never been to the garden, you’ll find it up a few concrete steps from the pavement. There is a gravel path that splits open around a center bed with more beds on each side of the paths and a small gravel space for two cars in the back of the garden. Patches of lawn are visible between the beds and gravel paths.

Nohle says the grant money will be used to buy a bench for the garden and to renovate the garden’s existing plants. “We don’t plant annuals,” says Nohle. “Because they only last a season, it wouldn’t be cost-effective.” Instead, she and the club rely on hardy perennials, most of which are native to the area.

“The club purchased a water tank which makes watering easier – but we don’t water on a regular basis,” says Nohle. Native plants which are drought-resistant are the ideal plants for this type of setting.

So what will you find if you decide to stroll through the walk-through? It depends on the season. You’ll always be able to find a large number of ferns, buttercups and cone flowers – all of which have grown substantially in size since the garden’s beginnings. In early summer there are hollyhocks and Rudbeckia (also known as Black-eyed Susans). There are roses, here, too, but they are the hardier shrub roses, not the demanding hybrid tea roses which require more work. That also explains why the garden doesn’t include any vegetables or plants in pots. There simply isn’t enough manpower, or money, to justify the labor. Still, the end result is a garden that’s natural, subtle, slightly cottage-y in feel. This isn’t meant to be an eye-popping show garden blazing with color. This is the sweet girl-next-door who possesses a quiet beauty all her own.

Breathing space
Of course, anyone is welcome to stop by the garden, but Nohle says it’s used primarily as a cut-through by residents. “I’ve had people tell me how nice it is to be able to walk through a place like this on their way home from work,” she says. Call it breathing space, a welcome transition from a world of speed and stress to the tranquility of home and free time. It’s not surprising, really, that residents are so pleased with the Mt. Pleasant garden. After all, public green space is always limited in a city, and when you stumble across it, you’re reminded how important nature is to a sense of peace and well-being.

That might explain why so many people have taken up gardening in recent years. “I’ve never seen the level of interest in gardening higher,” says Nohle. It’s why people turn out for the Weed and Feed events, and, in April, for Goodale Park’s “Perennial Potluck”. At this event, says Nohle, Martha Walker Garden Club trustees provide the food and attendees bring a perennial from their garden to split and share. “It’s a chance to swap plants and ask questions,” explains Nohle. “The club doesn’t offer any formal training or structured classes. The education we offer is more informal and hands-on.”

Think about it, though – a club that invites you to join activities offering plenty of fresh air, natural beauty, a bit of exercise, some education – and even a meal. Why wouldn’t you participate?

There is another reason as well, though, says Nohle, and it could be the underlying reason for the popularity of these public spaces and the sharing in their upkeep. “These green spaces and gardens are just a great way to bring the community together.”

?Public meetings are held at the caretaker’s residence in Goodale Park the second Monday each month at 7:30 pm. Contact Nancy at or visit Facebook if you plan to attend a meeting, volunteer, or for more information.

© 2009 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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