From topsoil to top garden

Family on York Street maintains expansive garden of shrubs, flowers and edibles on formerly empty space

Garden’s little helper: Reed Miller, 4, stands ready to water the plants with his foam water sprayer in his family’s garden on the 2000 block of E. York St. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

For Jacelyn Blank, there really was no way to avoid gardening.

“In some sense, I have been gardening since I was born,” said the longtime 2000 block of E. York St. resident, who lives with her husband Aaron Miller, 4-year-old son Reed Miller and two dogs. “I have learned more on my own with many successes and failures. Although I wouldn’t have an inkling or care if I hadn’t grown up on 29 acres of land in West Chester, PA with a landscaper and gardener father and a mother who worked as a florist.”

When you step into the family’s yard, it’s easy to think you’re visiting a similar scene, the urban oasis of lush shrubs, flowers and edibles quickly erasing the image of concrete and asphalt just beyond the fence.

“My mom made me do it, actually,” laughed Blank, referring to entering this year’s Show Us Your Blooms contest. “I entered in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society contest before and won.”

Looking at the expansive sea of green that starts at the family’s back door in the form of herbs, to the berm Blank created last year with leftover plants from a PHS green-teachers course, to the patio Blank’s husband created with bricks from blighted houses nearby that were knocked down more than a decade ago, it’s hard to imagine the space was once abandoned and barren.

“I have pictures looking down from the window when we first moved in 11 years ago and it’s amazing,” she said. “It was nothing. It was just graded with topsoil and grass seed.”

The garden, which could pass as an urban forest, with its wide range of shrubs, bushes, vines, trees, flowering perennials and staple vegetables,, serves many purposes, from entertaining guests to a playspace for Reed to a therapeutic outlet.

“I was out here weeding last night until it was almost too dark,” Blank said. “It was a stressful day and I just took it out on the weeds.”

Reed “helps with watering, but not so much with weeding, which we need more of,” added Blank, laughing.

Blank got more involved with gardening after college and whenever she and Miller had land to grow on.

Some tips she offers to those looking to showcase their green thumb include, “have patience. Try to find more native species to benefit the natural ecosystem of our area, learn to identify and destroy as little seedlings, morning glory, Japanese Hops, Mile-a-Minute Weed, Ailanthus, Princess Tree and Mulberry, and share seeds and plants with friends.”

And, despite her time spent in and around gardens, Blank doesn’t consider herself an expert.

“I fly by the seat of my pants mostly. There have been many casualties of plants over the years due to ignorance, dogs and forgetting where things are and I accidentally shovel them up,” Blank said.

Case in point: A dead branch hangs from the wisteria near the cobblestone path leading into the garden and Blank breaks it off, folding it into smaller pieces and tosses it on the dirt adjacent to the bush.

“I’m mulching,” said Blank, laughing.