Mezzacello is a risk and a labor of love. But she started as an abandoned parcel, with all the sordid history. For the past four years, we have worked tirelessly to renovate the house and grounds here at Mezzacello. We can’t ever forget what we inherited in 2014 when we bought the dilapidated house (she turns 150 years old this year!) and the adjacent vacant lots to the south. The grounds had been a haven for people with little direction or hope and some of them had turned to alcohol and drugs to lighten the load beneath the stars and the branches. I rarely think of these poor souls, hiding and sleeping among the brambles that had largely overtaken the 75′ x 150′ lot. It’s easy to forget this after the transformation. But it pays to remain vigilant, as we learned this past weekend.

When we first started working the soil, we did so with teflon gloves. We still do, a lesson that was repeated while we were digging out the monkey grass that now neatly lines the front formal gardens on the 20th Street facing formal gardens. My husband Rick is always cautious; and thank goodness. Wearing his thick and heavy gloves he unearthed this unwelcome reminder that this was a wild, urban abandoned place not so long ago. A heroin needle came up with the monkey grass. A stark reminder that all land has a provenance and urban gardens oftentimes have a grim provenance.

I can’t but marvel at the things we have found in this yard transforming urban dirt into rich urban soil that has become agriculturally productive land. Barbie doll heads, countless bottles of beer, Wild Irish Rose, cans of soda, shoes, needles, condoms, birth control packaging, parts from an EZ Bake Oven, wallets, purses, and even the foundations of the two houses that used to stand on each of the parcels. The trash we tossed responsibly and recycled what we could. The stone foundations we have collected to reuse to rebuild the foundation of the house; she needed it.

My point is not to wax anthropologically, but to remind anyone attempting this kind of urban renewal that every house and grounds has a skeleton or two hidden in her. Be prepared to deal with it, don’t be caught off guard. You can still love her. The difference between an urban lot and an urban garden is simple; an urban lot is a resource that has been extracted and used (and abused) whereas an urban garden is a repository of pride, respect, love and life. We all of us have secrets (and even skeletons). Be kind to the past, but always look forward to the future. #GardenOn #UrbanGarden

An old drug needle left by a sad soul in the brambles that used to define the lot at Mezzacello. Jim Bruner | Mezzacello
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