Wednesday, 26 April 2017 17:02

Houston’s green thumb yields unexpected benefits

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The Nellie Keys Garden is one of several urban gardens providing more than a bounty of produce for those who partake in the outdoor craft of gardening. The Nellie Keys Garden is one of several urban gardens providing more than a bounty of produce for those who partake in the outdoor craft of gardening. Photo by Lucha Morales

 

Easy to care for and full of nutrients, the bright green leaves of the kale plants are in full bloom at the Nellie Keys Park Community Garden in Rice Military.

The self-managed eco-friendly green space is part of the city's Urban Garden Program, which brings gardening to the doorsteps of communities. It also offers residents a chance to venture outdoors, get some exercise and grow their own produce.

And the Urban Garden Program is not alone. It is just one of the city's several city-sponsored gardening initiatives that promote fresh produce and healthy eating.

"All of the gardens are within a city park," said Rebecca Zielinski, urban garden manager for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. "It's convenient because in most cases there’s a restroom, there’s shade, there's a drinking fountain."

inline 01 Nellie keys garden web

photo by: Lucha Morales

Beets, kale, lettuce and tomatoes are just a few of the vegetables growing at the Nellie Keys Garden.

The Urban Garden Program began in 2008, and includes 12 select gardening spots throughout Houston. The Parks Department’s urban gardening manager oversees related projects and helps plan gardens.

"We do not charge a fee to get a bed and garden," Zielinski said. "You just provide your own plants and tools and any organic fertilizer or weed killer that you want to use."

"Living in the city, a lot of our residents don’t have ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables," she said.

Gardening can also help people reach the 2.5 hours of weekly exercise that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to reduce your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, depression, stroke, colon cancer and premature death.

"Your blood pressure improves when you're gardening," Zielinski said. "It's also providing mental relaxation."

Aside from health benefits, gardens provide an outdoor retreat for neighbors.

"It grows a sense of community," Zielinski said. "A lot of the local residents will be in the garden working on their beds."

Along with urban gardening opportunities, the City Gardens, built in 2010 and located outside of the Bob Lanier Public Works Building, gives city employees an additional chance to garden. The garden also helped to spark the development of gardens at other city buildings.

Most recently, a group of employees at the Houston Permitting Center revitalized a neglected area located between their building and an adjacent parking lot.

“The old garden was raised beds with some trees and was labor intensive. We wanted to have something that was more of an amenity,”” said Luke Fry, a senior plans analyst for HPC and a member of the garden team who revitalized the space.

“We began the process talking about all the different elements we wanted,” Fry said of the garden team’s approach to the design and development of the low-maintenance office garden.

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photo courtesy of: Linda Rossicone, Nellie Keys Garden Lead

More than 10 gardeners help maintain the Nellie Keys Urban Garden. The garden diagram demonstrates the planning that goes into such gardens.

“We wanted seating with shade, open space for tai chi, composters for office food waste, raised beds for vegetable gardening, fruit trees to frame views, and flowers to attract pollinators,” he said.

The renovated space now includes fruit trees, raised beds, tables, a shaded area and access to water.

“It’s about sustainability, green education, how to get people at work aware of sustainability and how to get them involved in sustainable activities and lifestyles,” Fry said.

Sustainability is a concept that has helped fuel the city’s Health and Human Services Department’s Community Garden Program.

The program gives residents a chance to participate in the harvesting of fresh fruits and vegetables, according to HHD. The volunteer based program consists of 12 gardens located at various multi-service centers throughout Houston.

Currently, Zielinski is working to partner with HHD and offer gardeners some added benefits through educational workshops.

“They have all the knowledge when it comes to health and nutrition,” said Zielinski of HHD. “I can share gardening education, and they can share their health education.”

And Zielinski looks forward to adding more gardeners to the program.

“We have empty beds in some of our gardens,” she said. “I would love to fill those.”

“The great thing about having a bed is you get to take the produce and share it with your family and friends, or neighbors,” said Zielinski of the perk of begin a gardener and having a bed. “You can even donate it to the local food bank.”

For those with busy schedules, volunteering is also an option.

“We can always arrange volunteer events,” said Zielinski, who regularly has church groups, boy scouts, and high school groups volunteer.

Watch an HTV news segment about City Gardens at the Houston Permitting Center.

 

 

Nellie Keys Garden, photo courtesy: Lucha Morales

Nellie Keys Garden, photo courtesy of Lucha Morales

Mandell Park Garden,  photo courtesy: dabfotocreative for Asakura Robinson

Mandell Park Garden, photo courtesy of dabfotocreative for Asakura Robinson

Burnett Garden Photo credit: Parks

Barnett Garden, photo courtesy of Parks

Nellie Keys Garden, Photo credit: Lucha Morales

Nellie Keys Garden, photo courtesy of Lucha Morales

Levy park, Photo credit: levyparkhouston.org

Levy park, photo courtesy of levyparkhouston.org

Levy park, Photo credit: levyparkhouston.org

Levy park, photo courtesy of levyparkhouston.org​

Houston Permitting Center Garden, Photo credit: HPC

Houston Permitting Center Garden, photo courtesy of HPC ​

Houston Permitting Center Garden, Photo credit: HPC

Houston Permitting Center Garden, photo courtesy of HPC 

Houston Permitting Center Garden, Photo credit: HPC

Houston Permitting Center Garden, photo courtesy of HPC ​

Houston Permitting Center Garden, Photo credit: HPC

Houston Permitting Center Garden, photo courtesy of HPC 

Nellie Keys Garden, photo courtesy: Lucha Morales Mandell Park Garden,  photo courtesy: dabfotocreative for Asakura Robinson Burnett Garden Photo credit: Parks Nellie Keys Garden, Photo credit: Lucha Morales Levy park, Photo credit: levyparkhouston.org Levy park, Photo credit: levyparkhouston.org Houston Permitting Center Garden, Photo credit: HPC Houston Permitting Center Garden, Photo credit: HPC Houston Permitting Center Garden, Photo credit: HPC Houston Permitting Center Garden, Photo credit: HPC