Personal Garden Brightens Public Housing Neighborhood

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August 25, 2013

A personal garden in Charlottesville's Westhaven neighborhood is inspiring neighbors to take pride in their homes.

While many yards are relatively bare in the public housing development, Joy Johnson's is in full bloom. And those who pass by her corner apartment on the corner of Hardy Drive and 8th Street are taking note.

"I've had people say, 'Well, this wasn't here all of that time, was it? When did this grow? Can we take a picture of it?'" said Johnson.

Johnson has been working on the garden for about a year. It's full of sunflowers, banana leaves and other plants towering nearly twice her height.

"It just makes you put a smile on your face," said neighbor Connie Rosenbaum. "We have our own jungle here on Hardy Drive."

Neighbors say, while they don't always live in ideal conditions being in public housing, the garden is a bright spot helping to light up a sometimes dark neighborhood.

"The apartments aren't in the best of shape, but when you put something like this in front of the apartments, it helps just bring it to life," said Rosenbaum.

Johnson says planting is therapeutic for her and brings her back to her own roots.

"I guess the older I get, the more I get back to my roots, being from Jamaica. And so I just wanted a little bit of that around me, but then I ended up with a whole lot of it," said Johnson.

Soon, other front yards in the public housing community could follow suit. Johnson says she has had others ask her for some of her plants so they can create a garden of their own.

"I've actually given some away to other people who say, 'Miss Joy, I'm coming back to get one or two banana plants because I want them to grow like this," Johnson said pointing to the huge greens. "I don't know if it's the dirt or the area or what, but I didn't think they were going to grow this tall either."

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