Unsung heroes – two roadside gardeners in Germantown

A woman yelled “thank you” to Sheila Eddy and Sharif Floyd as she sped by them on Wissahickon Avenue in her car.

It was a faint noise, but the two gardeners working on the side of that fast moving road near its intersection with Lincoln Drive got the message. In an hour of working, they might hear about four nice comments and honks from those driving by. But they might also be told to get out of the way.

The two were working on a public space gardening project started by Eddy, a Germantown resident.

“It was knowing that the world can be prettier,” she said about gardening along the street. “It was fixing up an area that was really ugly and putting flowers in it.”

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Though she hired Floyd to help her, they don’t get many outside funds to support their work. Other gardens the team maintains are at the corner of Rittenhouse and Wissahickon, the SEPTA property on Rittenhouse Street, between Pulaski and Morris, and one at Mastery Charter School.

Flowers for everyone

It all started with Eddy wanting to beautify an area owned by SEPTA  on Rittenhouse Street three years ago. Trash had just been cleared from it as part of a cleanup, so she thought it was a perfect place to start a garden.

That first year she did it all on her own without asking SEPTA for permission.

This resulted in her garden being destroyed by the weed killers sprayed by SEPTA, so she called its community relations office to get the official OK before she started again.

The garden was ruined more than once after that but Eddy kept on working.  She thinks it happens because SEPTA doesn’t keep track of where gardens are on its properties.

Other people’s gardens have also been in danger of being ruined.

Sharif Floyd’s garden on a SEPTA property on Coulter Street was almost sprayed too but he was there to stop it, he said.  It’s at this garden that he first met Eddy.

She passed by one day and complimented him on his work, and she also asked if he was available to work for her.

“She was just surprised that I had done the body of work she was looking at,” he said. “It’s only one person doing that project.”

Floyd has been gardening most of his adult life, one reason Eddy wanted to work with him. Also, her bad knees and back problems would have made working on the Wissahickon Street garden by herself difficult the second year.

The two have developed a friendship in the last two years, he said.  They bicker sometimes – once it was over the origin of the word “sheriff.”  Neither could persuade the other of his or her position. But the two agree on many things too, especially on the idea of social responsibility. “For the most part, people are just surprised that someone has taken it upon themselves to have a project like that,” Floyd said of the streetside garden. “Sheila’s definitely civic minded.”

Gardening and giving back 

In Eddy’s opinion, everybody needs to make up for using nonrenewable resources by giving back to the planet. She does this with what’s most meaningful to her: gardening.

Eddy, who grew up in Paradise, Pa., has been gardening since she was five years old. Her father, a landscaper, first showed her what weeds looked like and how to pull them out.

She keeps four gardens scattered through the community, not including the one at her home. She is constantly looking for the best bargains on plants, though she sometimes keeps the best plants for the home project because mortality is high along the roadside.

One time when she saw a man in a suit stop his car, get out, and take an azalea from her before calmly walking back to his car. Though she told him it was her plant, he ignored her and left with it.

Other times she has returned to ripped out plants, and a few weeks ago, she found a garden she maintains on Rittenhouse Street completely ruined. She initially thought it was SEPTA spraying for weeds again, but later learned it was another group doing the same thing.

Eddy also worries about trash, especially bottles.

“People throw out bottles, and they break,” she said. “I don’t like to work with gloves, and I get cut.”

Despite this, she continues to garden and won’t stop unless she is pushed too far.

But there are rewards to the work too.

People have asked Eddy if they could volunteer and garden with her. She’s also received small donations from people, mostly in the $10 range. One woman gave her a $100 donation and she receives some flower donations as well.

And then there is the friendship with Floyd, an unexpected bloom in all the gardening work.

Eddy is always looking for more donations and ways to maintain her gardens less expensively as opposed to the couple of thousand dollars she spends on them each year. In the past, she has applied for grants but has been denied.  Looking forward, she hopes to form a community group and approach Weavers Way Co-op for a little help with the effort.

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