by Connie Oswald Stofko
“We want people to come back downtown,” said Ruth Cooper of 12th St., Niagara Falls. “It’s safe here.”
That was the message of the Black Squirrel Garden Walk, held July 23 as part of Garden Walk of Niagara Falls, USA. (The Black Squirrel Garden Walk is named that for the black squirrels that you can see in Niagara Falls but aren’t common elsewhere in other parts of Western New York.)
The event included a garden walk with 16 gardens, speakers at different sites, a tree tour, musicians, Master Gardener activities and transportation to each venue by New York State Parks trolley.
Ruth and her husband John welcomed visitors to their yard a bright green door set up in their front yard. On it was displayed information on the history of their house.
The house was built in 1910 by Verney Graling, an electrician at the hydroelectric plant, but in recent years, the house fell into disrepair. John, who was born in Sierra Leone, found the house in 2005, and with Ruth, saved it.
Much of the backyard is devoted to vegetables. Ruth has them planted in the ground as well as in a keyhole garden, based on a traditional African garden. I asked her if this was an idea that John brought from West Africa, but Ruth dismissed that idea, saying that John is a city guy. Ruth is the gardener in the family.
The idea of the keyhole garden is to have a raised bed with a compost section in the middle. As the plant material in the compost section decomposes, it feeds the garden around it.
Ruth’s keyhole garden is made with metal fence supports and chicken wire, surrounded by landscape fabric. For fun, Ruth used decorative fabric, too. Wooden stakes provide more support.
The planting material in the raised beds is built up of layers. Starting at the bottom are sticks, then cardboard and paper, then leaves and dirt.
When I talked to Ruth in July, the level in the raised gardens had already sunk three inches. The setup is good for three or four years, she said, then she will take it down, spread the dirt and compost, and set it up again.
The yard is both attractive and practical. There had been a garage on the lot, but it was torn down before the Coopers moved in. That spot is now used as a work area. An old fence that they salvaged now blocks that area from view.
“You need to hide the dirty dishes, so to speak,” Ruth said.
The Garden Walk of Niagara Falls, USA event got its start last year and is growing. Ruth hopes other gardeners will display their yards next year, and that there will be even more visitors.
“It’s a fabulous neighborhood,” she said. “I love it here.”