Nancy “The Garden Lady” Savelle maintains the small patch of land at the intersection of River and Business Streets, and has transformed it into a garden filled with sunflowers and other plants. In this edition of HOHP we learn how that came to be.
How long have you lived in Hyde Park?
I’ve been in Hyde Park for 29 years. I was a commuter into Boston, and I would walk by the piece of land at River and Business Streets.
What was your motivation for starting the garden and how long have you been maintaining it?
I would walk by the piece of land and there was trash, and it was overgrown. I really don’t know how long I’ve been maintaining it - it could be 10, 12 or 15 years!
How did you go about starting it?
I called Hyde Park Main Streets and asked if it would be okay for me to take over maintaining the piece of land on my own because it was an eyesore. It took me a season to clean it up and take out the weeds, then I started putting plants in. The first year I would get Boston city trucks stopping to ask who gave me permission and who owned the land. I told them I didn’t know! I think the workers and I figured out it was MBTA land, but the city wouldn’t provide water, mulch, or anything, so I was on my own.
What is it like maintaining the garden?
It’s a high traffic area. Once a week I go up there and clean up the trash. People will stop and talk, and I’ll never forget one young man who stopped. I couldn’t pull out a big sunflower stalk, and I asked him to help me. He asked who pays me, and I told him, “Nobody. I do it because I want to. It brings me joy!” I’ll never forget the look on his face. There was a humanity shift like, “Wow! There’s someone out here who would do something just because.” I think I made a difference in his life that day.
In the wintertime it really takes a beating especially from the snow plows; I’ve lost so many plants that way. If they ever have to do work up there and there are guys tramping around, I come out and tell them to watch out for my garden!
I don’t go up there that often the way I used to. The garden is self-seeded, and I’ve learned if I put anything too shiny, too unusual, too pretty people will just pick it out. Also the snow plows will kill the right side of the garden. When I first started the garden I was schlepping bins of water, then I got Junior’s on the corner to water it once in a while. Now that it’s established it just sort of takes care of itself. Everything that’s in the garden is really drought tolerant and doesn’t require much care. I don’t have to plant the sunflowers anymore because it’s self-seeded.
How do people interact with the garden; do they help?
People still smile when they see me; they call me the “Garden Lady.” They thank me and are appreciative. It’s showing love to humanity - some compassion, some joy and gratitude. If I need help - for example to bring a bag out of my car - I’ll wait until someone who looks strong passes by, and I’ll ask them to give me a hand. When I sat on the zoning board there were a few people who were gardeners and there were a few people who would contribute, but it’s trailed off. That’s okay because it’s fine now and the garden is just my thing!
Will there be a point when someone else will take it over?
Not for now, but if that happens I’d let Hyde Park Main Streets or Keep Hyde Park Beautiful know in case they want to take it over.
What can people do to help in the community?
Just pick up the trash. Don’t do it because you’re expecting a thank you; do it because it makes you feel good about yourself!
What do you grow in your own garden?
I just grow perennials, and I volunteer at the Brookwood Community Farm. I pick vegetables and they have a CSA over there where you can sign-up and get fresh fruits and vegetables.
What do you hope for Hyde Park and do you have suggestions for how people can get involved in the community?
We need anchor shops to give people a reason to come downtown; when I was working on the zoning board I could see the tremendous potential of Hyde Park. To get involved in groups like the zoning board look for ads in the paper; get out around the neighborhood and see what’s going on. Get outside!
Nominate yourself or someone in the community for a future Humans of Hyde Park story; nominees can remain anonymous in the story or use their first name only if they prefer: https://goo.gl/forms/qgTj1Rh8t2bSbh973.
Quiana first came to Boston as a college student, graduating from Wellesley College in 2002 and returned in 2016 to live in Hyde Park with her husband and two children.