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FEA wiartraintracks16p Bev Newell watches a passing train on Oakdale at White streets in Toledo. She planted a garden there and loves to watch the trains go by. She is sitting on a bench she made for the garden.
Bev Newell watches a passing train on Oakdale at White streets in Toledo. She planted a garden there and loves to watch the trains go by. She is sitting on a bench she made for the garden.
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Published: Tuesday, 8/27/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

WEED IT AND REAP

Beverly Newell: Engineering a garden

A 40x180' garden along the Norfolk Southern railroad line

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Name: Beverly Newell, retired from retail, living in East Toledo.

PHOTO GALLERY: Beverly Newell's train track garden

Garden specs: A 40-foot-by-180-foot-long area adjacent to the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks on Oakdale Avenue near White Street, not far from Oakdale School. It can be a busy spot with lots of trains going by (the engineers wave), men working on the tracks, and people coming by to shoot photos. I drive down in my van with my tools and water; it’s about four blocks from our house, in which my husband grew up. He thinks the low concrete blocks near the sidewalk were the foundation of an ice house (years ago, ice kept food refrigerated in train cars). Four tall concrete pillars supported a water tower that fed the steam engines.

A bee flies away from a hollyhock. A bee flies away from a hollyhock.
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When did you start gardening? I grew up on a farm near Seaman and Lallendorf roads in Oregon that my German ancestors settled in the 1840s. We had a vegetable garden, berries, and fruit trees. I started working along these tracks six or seven years ago. Before that, I’d had cancer and four surgeries. When I was feeling better, my husband gave me a set of golf clubs and I started playing. I also began gardening here — there’s something that takes you back to nature. I did a little at a time at first, closest to the Oakdale sidewalk around the concrete blocks. The area was overgrown with tree of heaven (an invasive) and other weed trees and plants which a neighbor helped cut down.

Zinnias and marigolds grow in Bev Newell's train track garden. Zinnias and marigolds grow in Bev Newell's train track garden.
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What do you grow? The soil is full of stones, coal dust, bits of glass, rebar poking out of the ground, and even walnut shells that somebody dumped, so it’s trial and error as to what will grow. I add bags of topsoil where I put in flowers. I started with plants from my own yard including lots of lavender-blue iris from my mother and my grandmother’s farm, which have multiplied. There are hostas, Russian sage, wisteria, yucca, lupine, hollyhocks (I got the seeds at a golf course), cannas, shasta daisies, sedum, salvia, and some wildflowers. Black-eyed susans, bachelor buttons, violets, alyssum, garlic, four-o’clocks, mums, petunias for lasting color. I buy gallon jugs of wildflower seeds and sprinkle them around, the zinnias really take. Tulips, big yellow crocus, grape hyacinth. Neighbors have planted various things, too. I put out a dish of water for the birds. There’s a yellow cat and a groundhog that come around.

Saved railroad stakes. Saved railroad stakes.
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Favorite plant: When a couple of hundred iris bloom (about the third week in May), what a beautiful show of color that passengers on the train see as they ride by.

Give us a tip: Most of my time is spent weeding and when I get behind it’s twice as much work. And with all this coal dust, a good pair of gardening boots really help. I bring down my grass clippings from home, which improves the soil.

Hours spent per week: One to two.

Annual expense: $20 to $30 for seeds, $30 for plants, $60 to $75 for mulch.

Challenges: I was kind of discouraged last fall because people stole my flower pots and even dug up bulbs. Deer have chewed up a nice plant with blue flowers.

I’m proud of: That such beauty comes from coal dust and stones. I built a heavy bench using wooden forms, rebar, and cement. And I have a family history with trains: my grandfather was a yardmaster, my father repaired cars for Nickel Plate, and my husband and brother-in-law were switchmen/conductors.

What I’ve gotten out of gardening: This is so refreshing; even if you’re exhausted you feel good. There is so much personal satisfaction seeing things grow and I like to see people walking here. But I’m only the planter: the creator gave the plants and elements to make it grow. And I like the sound of the train whistle.

Contact Tahree Lane at tlane@theblade.com and 419-724-6075.


Garden notes
A workshop about bringing back the American chestnut tree will be 10 a.m. Sept. 21 in the Swanton Public Library, 305 Chestnut St., Swanton. Cost, $25, includes lunch. Following lunch, people can tour three places where the tree grows: Oak Openings Preserve Metropark, Maumee State Forest, and the Walter and Donna Lange Tree Farm. Registration required by Sept. 15. Information at the Fulton Soil & Water Conservation District: 419-337-9660 and kbowles@fultoncountyoh.com.



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