ROCHESTER — After shovels and pick axes ripped off stubbly grass and laid bare the clay soil beneath, volunteers were ready to plant a brand-new flower bed at the intersection of Saxton and Brown streets.
As the volunteers began to bury in the ground dormant bulbs and chrysanthemums, passersby could read on their chartreuse shirts the name of the church they belong to: the New Saint Monica’s, which was spelled in all caps and underlined to emphasize how four local parishes recently merged into one at St. Monica Church. On the back of the shirts was the name of the group’s name, Blooming Optimists, a pun that refers both to the gardeners’ steadfast faith in the future of their church and the City of Rochester.
Members of Blooming Optimists once belonged to St. Augustine, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Monica and Ss. Peter and Paul. The first two churches closed in April, while the last closed in September. Parishioners from each of the churches were invited to worship at St. Monica, whose pastor is Father Raymond Fleming.
Ss. Peter and Paul parishioners formerly maintained gardens at Brown and West Main streets that are part of a Neighborhood United beautification project, said John Curran, a member of St. Monica’s social ministry committee, which organized the event. Now members from all the former churches are taking part in the project, he said.
In addition to Blooming Optimists, St. Monica’s garden ministry also includes a group called Seedy Characters, which gather seeds from dried flowers. The city’s horticulturist then distributes the seeds to neighborhood groups and students.
Donations of plants for the garden came from many sources, said St. Monica Parishioner Lorrie Boyce. Country Way Garden Store donated a crab apple tree, 150 chrysanthemums and bushes. Davey Tree and Landscaping donated dirt and mulch. Monroe County loaned tools to be used for the project. Other donations were received from Aug’s Roadside Stand, the City of Rochester and Flower City Fundraising.
“This is the kind of project that a lot of people can get behind, because they see the good that can come out of it,” Boyce said.
Construction of the 15 gardens along Jefferson Avenue and Brown, West Main Street and Silver streets began in 2000. In October, the group planted a garden at Silver Street and Jefferson Avenue, in an area that leads into the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood. The patches of color and beauty have helped to change the character of the neighborhood, Boyce said.
“It’s a soothing feeling,” she said. “(People) don’t feel afraid. They feel like they are in a nice, neat, upscale neighborhood.”
But the new gardens are just one project intended to improve the appearance of the southwest section of the City of Rochester.
A $2.5 million revitalization effort on Brown, Love, Silver and Taylor streets has led to the construction of 40 homes in the area. The projects involved the City of Rochester, Flower City Habitat for Humanity, the Urban League and Providence Housing and Development Corp.
“It’s like a resurrection in the neighborhood,” Boyce said.
Beautification efforts will continue, she added, saying new gardens will continue to be planted, and church volunteers will weed and maintain the gardens in the spring.
One of those volunteers will be Helen Wiesner, who said she jumped at the chance to take part in the flower-bed construction because she grew up on a farm. She said on this particular day the ground was especially difficult to work with, since it was dry and full of stones. But those difficulties didn’t dry up her commitment, she noted.
“We have to come back and tend the gardens,” Wiesner said. “It’s a lot of work, so I hope to be one of them.”
Organizers say beside beautification, the gardens help discourage trash from being dumped on vacant corner lots. Joaquim Miranda Flores of Rochester, who is trying to help St. Augustine’s Portuguese community transition to worshipping at St. Monica, said the gardens also aim to bring peace to the streets.
“We work together to try to get peace in our streets,” he said.
David Huddleston, a St. Monica parishioner for nearly four decades, explained that the gardens have an important psychological effect on those in the Brown Street neighborhood.
“They will see the beauty of what’s being established, and they will see that people do care,” Huddleston said.
Some neighbors immediately appeared to appreciate the new garden, Father Fleming said.
“A person walked by and was telling me he can’t wait until spring,” he remarked.