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Down the garden path

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Gardeners living in the city don't always have a lot of space to work with. But the urge to set hands into soil is a powerful one, and thank goodness. The pockets of beauty these tillers create are something we all can enjoy. The City of Rochester recently announced the winners of the Flower City Garden Contest, an annual part of the Flower City Looking Good program. Both the contest and the program were created to "encourage all city residents to beautify their properties and neighborhoods." Aren't you glad they did?

Sam Cicero and Jim Yost share the gardening work at their 1950s-era Cape house. They've lived there for six years. Besides painting the house and turning the front lawn into a small wonderland complete with trees, bushes, flowers --- including an 18th-century rosebush transplanted from Cicero's parents' home --- and a yellow-brick road, this year they've started in earnest on the back yard. They're building up beds and putting in some fencing and plantings, but they're leaving a wild walnut tree that the previous owner recommended they tear out. "I like it," Cicero says. "Nature plants things better than we do." They wanted a house in the city and deliberately found a house with space for a garden. "I think a garden like ours is less maintenance than a lawn," Yost says. Winner: first place, single family residential

The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery's gardening committee, a group approximately 12 volunteers large, is all the labor force maintaining the historic cemetery's gardens. One of the volunteers, John Pearsall, was fencing off a spreading mum plant on a recent Saturday. He says the sculpture and basin of the Florentine fountain in the center of this garden were recently restored. The committee is now trying to raise funds to restore the plumbing. Next to the fountain is a rock garden, maintained by the same family for 20 years. And besides the planned gardens and plantings along walkways throughout the cemetery grounds, there is also an opportunity for the public to adopt older plots that no longer have friends or family to look after them. Volunteers are provided with annuals each year or can bring their own plants. The beautification doesn't go without its own reward: the cemetery is one of the best walking spots in the city, and people enjoy it year-round. Winner: first place, not-for-profit

"After the debacle of the Garden of Eden," says gardener Claude Artigue, "people started to develop a sense of beauty again. They wanted to come back to the source, instinctively." Artigue lives in an apartment at Norton Village, and over 10 years has grown a garden that can be seen far down Norton Road (with his neighbors' permission to grow in front of their apartments). He built up banks using soil, dead wood, and stones to create a natural feel. He has orchestrated the plantings to provide variety in color and blooming times so the garden never looks boring. A photographer and artist, he wanted to create something beautiful for everyone to enjoy in their own way. "The objective of this garden is to let people think for themselves," he says. Winner: second place, single family residential

Atomic Eggplant is a place where even carnivores don't mind eating vegetarian food. More than offer delicious, innovative dishes that are both hearty and animal-friendly, owner-chef Meg Davis has managed to grow a portion of her own produce and herbs on the restaurant's Marshall Street plot. By the front sidewalk are tomatoes, chard, other greens, and fresh herbs. The back garden flanks the trademark purple fence and surrounds the patio, where summer diners can sit. There you'll find flowers (most in the ground and pots, some in old bathroom fixtures), more veggies and herbs, and, tucked away in the back, a small army of compost bins. Winner: first place, commercial

Six years ago Mary Kent was working at the Maplewood Neighborhood Association and had to pass by the dismal corner of Dewey and Lexington every day on her way to pick up the mail. "It was the case of a terribly awful city lot," she says. "They had taken down a building, and it was on a very vulnerable corner. It was full of trash and getting worse by the minute." She gathered a small group of volunteers and talked to the city and the NET office. Word spread, and others came to help. Eventually, the Garden of Peace and Life was born. It's still the same committee maintaining the garden May through November. One year ago the mural by Rick Muto, "In the Garden," went up. "We were hoping it would kind of spark up the neighborhood," Kent says, "and people who pass by always stop, and are very happy." Winner: first place, coordinated neighborhood enhancement

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