The Mitchell Heights Neighborhood Association has helped with the creation of a few gardens and pocket parks in their 40-block section of The Heights, but two of those gardens hold a special place in the community.
Sidney Johnson is the organization's president and runs the Mitchell Heights Garden and Nursery. It began as a way to repurpose an overgrown lot next to Johnson's property that was once part of a Civil War-era roadway. From there, community members planted a garden, then secured a business license to begin selling whole plants. According to Johnson, the city's horticulturalist approached him to help fill orders for plants and flowers because they had been unable to locate any other Black-owned nurseries in the city. They're now in the process of filling their order — flowers for City Hall — and hope to start employing neighborhood residents soon.
"I can't send them back to school and make them rocket scientists, but I can make them gardeners. I can teach them to grow vegetables," said Johnson of the neighborhood kids that help out at the garden.
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Judy and Major Conway have been residents of the area since 1977. She and her neighbors worked for ten years to have a blighted property at the corner of Coleman Avenue and Tillman Street removed. They then worked with several community partners to transform the lot into a thriving community garden, complete with a large sign that reads, 'Mrs. Judy and Major's Coleman Street Community Garden.'
Both of these spaces have served to feed the community, provide a respite and green space, and teach the neighborhood's young people about urban farming and entrepreneurship.
"It's fun, but it's so, so, so relaxing, too," said Conway.
Dana Merriweather, 55, talks about autumn planting for the Coleman Street Garden. (Natalie Eddings)
The Coleman Street Garden is cared for by its regular volunteers. (Natalie Eddings)
Judy Conway, volunteer and caretaker of the Coleman Street Community Garden, tends to the soil. (Natalie Eddings)
Judy Conway is the primary caretaker of the Coleman Street community garden, though she often has help from her grandchildren and neighbors. (Natalie Eddings)
The large, bright sign at Mrs. Judy and Major's Coleman Street Garden lists the gardens' partners. (Natalie Eddings)
Malcolm Howze, 27, picks seeds from a Lions Tail plant at the Coleman Street Garden. (Natalie Eddings)
Family and friends chat outside Sidney Johnson's home. Flowers are lined up awaiting pickup by the City of Memphis. They'll be planted at City Hall. Johnson is the primary caretaker of the Mitchell Heights Garden and Nursery, which is adjacent to his home on Gracewood Street. (Natalie Eddings)
Sidney Johnson, primary caretaker of the Mitchell Heights Garden and Nursery, talks about the importance of community gardens. (Natalie Eddings)
Dana Merriweather (Left), Judy Conway (Center) and Sidney Johnson discuss plans for the greenhouse located next to Johnson's property on Gracewood Street. (Natalie Eddings)
Dana Merriweather holds her peppers picked from the Coleman Street garden. (Natalie Eddings)
Judy Conway tends to her namesake, Mrs. Judy and Major's Coleman Street Garden. (Natalie Eddings)