Take a seat

Some people have fences, some people have “keep off the grass” signs, and others keep dogs to make sure the property in front of their house is not violated by pedestrians.

Gail McCarthy and Marvin Lunenfeld had a bench. It was installed in the late eighties, just inside their property line, so close to the sidewalk that it had every appearance of public seating. This was a natural extension of the relationship the two had established with passers-by, who would comment on the bright perennial garden that surrounded their house; at that time, few of their neighbors had anything other than grass.

When McCarthy and Lunenfeld left their house in 2003, the entire neighborhood for blocks around had caught the gardening bug, and there were many front gardens just like theirs—largely thanks to their example. (The two also founded Garden Walk Buffalo, which had around twenty gardens when they started it and now has over 200.)

Over time, the wooden bench deteriorated and had to be removed by the new owners. They installed a bench exactly like it, right down to the small “welcome/bienvenudo” sign that is affixed to the back. So there it is, just in case anyone walking by needs to sit for a minute, change their baby, or just feels like enjoying the vista of urban gardens that Gail and Marvin helped to inspire.

(I interviewed them recently for the GW book.)


Annie in Austin said…
What a sweet story, EAL - not just the bench for pedestrians, but the influence this couple had on the neighborhood.

I haven't achieved this level of selfless gardening, but I'll be turning my attention to the front yard one of these days, and you've given me inspiration.

LostRoses said…
What a nice tradition the bench is, and what an inspiration for the neighborhood. Their ideas on gardening for the front yard certainly blossomed!
Unknown said…
Very sweet story... makes me feel a little guilty--or at least selfish--for not installing something similar in my yard!
Carol Michel said…
I like the bench idea. Perhaps, one day, I shall do the same, but for now, my attention is focused in my back yard.
Susan Harris said…
Great story, and the Garden Walk site is terrific.
Unknown said…
I am amazed it has nor been vandalized. Hate to say it but that was what I looked for first. It's so refreshing to see it looking good. It's a credit to the good people of Buffalo.
EAL said…
Well, I did give it a good swipe with a towel and picked a cigarette butt out of it before I took the picture.
Such a contrast in POV from the neighborhood directly south of the DC borderline that had a fight on its list serv last week about re-installing a bench in the bus shelter in front of a church. It had been removed several years before by community request as it had attracted "drug ealers and prostitutes." The new additions to the neighborhood rightly wanted to be able to sit hile awaiting a bus, the older residents flamed them and raised all kinds of horror stories of attracting the scarey crime back. I'm waiting for the new neighbors to just go ahead and install their own benches.
EAL said…
Had Gail and Marvin tried to do this on public space, there would hve been hassles, I am sure. However, I have been encouraged by some of the business owners up and down one of our main commercial streets who have put in benches on their easeways. I think the fear of benches is lessening somewhat in Buffalo.
Here in the UK, benches are often used as memorials to loved ones - public parks and private gardens are full of benches, each accompanied by a little plaque that commemorates someone. After I reorganised my garden I laid some new turf and installed a bench in memory of my wife's mother. She used to love sitting in the garden and it just seems like a really nice, personal way to remember her.

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