by Laura Richard

For years now, it has been a priority of the East Side Business Improvement District to invest in gorgeous gardening for the area to help keep the neighborhood beautiful.

This is no small undertaking considering the number of factors that must be considered. One of the biggest issues is how to keep the beauty safe from late night revelers who enjoy throwing themselves into the foliage or the opportunistic gardeners who endeavor to transplant North Avenue to their own yards.

Since the rebuilding of Beans and Barley back in 1994, co-owner Peg Silverstrini has spent hours contemplating the best specimens for the grounds and planters around the East North Avenue area.

The term “urban guerilla gardening” usually refers to planting without permission, but Peg thinks of herself in another sort of battle.

“I call it [guerrilla gardening] because I feel embattled with vandals who do all sorts of damage ranging from picking flowers to drunken rampaging to outright theft of interesting specimens. We’ve had small trees literally snapped off at the base, plants torn out of the ground by the roots and flung around,” Peg mourned.

Peg has been the champion of the planting project. When the BID purchased over 100 planters for the district she took on the planting of them. The first few years she voluntarily did all the buying and organized other volunteers to help with the planting The BID bought a hose caddy and hired someone to do the watering. “We got permission from property owners all over the district to hook up to their spigots,” Peg remembered.

Peg has chosen to focus on plants with interesting foliage that carry extreme variation and color for planters, flowers that grow low to the ground for other areas and hardier species that will stand up to some rough use.

As the effort gained more attention and more money became available, Peg has incorporated more flowers in the plantings. If they are damaged or stolen, she tries to replant right away.

“It isn’t easy, but on the whole, urban guerrilla gardening is very rewarding,” Peg admitted. “When I’m outside working I get many appreciative comments.”

And, of course, she gets the inevitable requests to “come and work in MY yard.”

“Everyone’s a comedian,” she shrugged.

Riverwest Currents online edition – May, 2007