Story and photo by Debbi Casini Klein | Audio edited by Louis D’Aria
A few years ago, Howard Aikens decided he had to do something about the huge, dilapidated garden surrounding Sterret School that was such an eyesore in his Point Breeze neighborhood.
Every day after work for an hour or two, he began pulling the weeds and grass, planting flowers and then herbs, slowly turning the monstrosity into vision of beauty.
“This garden was here, but it was abandoned and I just started pulling weeds,” Howard said. “I didn’t ask anyone in the beginning, and I just established a relationship with the school, and they trusted me over time because they saw that I was consistent and hardworking and responsible.”
From terragon, oregano, to larkspur and day lilies, Howard has planted hundreds of herbs and flowers, and he arranged them in an artistic manor that isn’t what you would see in a typical garden. He even clips the hedges in a most unusual way.
“The hedges are beginning to look like caterpillars, not the typical boxes. I think anything you do in a garden should bring you joy, so you don’t just pull weeds and clip things just because. You want to make things beautiful and you want to take joy yourself in doing it.”
Howard has created a sense of community. Many of the neighbors have chipped in, donating plants from their yards and bird baths and have helped with the upkeep of the garden. It has also generated a sense of pride for the kids at the school. To get them more involved, Howard put up a board in the garden where they could post their poems about the garden.
“It makes me happy because it’s beautiful, and it makes me happy because I watch people walking by and they just look over the hedges and they smile,” he said, “and that makes me happy too!”