Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Secret Garden

Nature unrestrained in a neighborhood.

I went to the record store because I had never been there. I don’t own a record player or any vinyl, didn’t intend to. Maybe if I found an album I really liked or some nostalgic track, I’d end up walking out of there with whatever the cheapest record player was. Maybe I’d not even care, maybe this was just an excuse to go on a walk through the neighborhood, to get outside for awhile? It didn’t matter anyways, the place was closed.

I turned around to start walking home, but the weather was nice. I didn’t want to be tempted by ice cream or beer, so I hurried past the parlor and bars, settling on a bench. I figured I’d read for a bit, pulling up a book on my phone. I was about two minutes in when a local eccentric walked up, asked about my t-shirt, and began a conversation. Normally, I wouldn’t have minded, but it didn’t matter how I moved or which direction I headed, he followed me and kept the one-sided conversation going, a litany of his favorite 1970s soccer players building into: “this isn’t alcohol in my cup, can I borrow some change?” I wasn't bound for pinball, so I didn't have any.

I walked back to the end of the main drag and crossed onto a quiet street that loops back around to where I live. I happened to glance up at a nearby house and its backyard. The garage seemed old, almost ramshackle. Not terribly surprising, a lot of these older houses in the city’s neighborhoods had garages that look far worse than they are and could really just use a good coat of paint. The house looked a bit worse for wear, but not the worst place I’d seen anybody live. The hedges were a bit overgrown, but the grass was trimmed. The mailbox was overflowing and it seemed the place was abandoned. Maybe it was? That seemed odd for this neighborhood that sits on the border of nice, but not too nice.

At the neighboring house, I noticed the backyard had been converted to an asphalt parking lot, I walked around to get a better look at the shuttered residence and there it was: an overgrown plethora of green rising well above and consuming the fence. The newer parking lot connects to a strip mall that came well after these houses were built and was a stark contrast to the unmaintained, wild nature of the abandoned house. It was an interesting sight to behold. A staircase connecting the parking lot and strip mall seemed to provide some sort of emergency access/fire escape if the strip center ever needed it. I walked the access sidewalks to get a better look at the secret garden.

The fence had long rusted, now just barely poking up from the weeds and abutting right to the strip mall’s back sidewalk. In a different era, it probably shared space with other homes before the neighborhood needed a burger joint, running store, and the parking those businesses apparently necessitated.

I hate snakes and wasn’t going to risk running into any, so I stayed out of the garden. I heard a twig snap, though, and I looked up, assuming I would be facing slithering death at any moment. Two does looked back at me, though, sitting amongst the lush landscape contained within the borders of the fence like they were in some sort of secret zoo hidden amongst the neighborhood. A few clicks of the camera shutter and they ran off, but stayed within the confines of the fence, watching me from their hiding spot.

- Sign amongst the vegetation.

- Nearby strip mall.

- Neighborhood mural.

I ran into a nearby neighbor. We chatted for a bit, her explaining that the man who had lived here and presided over the garden had passed away around two years ago. It wasn’t that he never cut the grass, rather, he once maintained an “incredible” garden. Once he passed, though, the greenery grew into the jungle it is today.

A “company” came to clean out his house at some point, but apparently the departed owner had “no family.” One random light bulb was still seen on in the basement from a ground window and another neighbor seems to cut the grass in the front yard, but the vegetation out back grows unrestrained. If the occupant had “no family,” it seemed he must have at one point: names and small hands were pressed into the cement out front.

What happened to them?

Maybe nothing?

Maybe the gardener moved here well after those handprints were made?

Maybe the city will come clean this place out?

Maybe someone will buy it and restore the place? Restore the garden?

It sits on the border of what the neighborhood was and what someone thought it would be when they built a strip mall. I appreciate that it’s a spot you can go sit on a secret bench and escape for a minute.

It reminded me of the Joe Wilcher story from nearly a decade ago.


  1. Loved this one, Ronny. So many unexplained items. Eerily fascinating.

  2. I found your page a few months after the joe Wilcher story was uploaded. I was totally floored by it and have been a huge fan of this site since. Before I finished this article Joe was in the back of my head. The last line gave me chills.

    1. Wow, thank you! Appreciate you following along all this time.