The new colors of the boulevardOct 17, 2022 10:20AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
There, at the entrance to Nottingham Green on Radcliffe Drive, is a parcel of three planting beds 200 feet long and 3,300 square feet in size, where for the past several decades, brackish and tangling weeds have choked the breathing life and color out of a once attractive invitation to a 70-year-old Newark development.
There, in creative defiance of the nettles and the bramble, a group of neighborhood visionaries armed with shovels, rakes and ingenuity have spent the last year spearheading a beautification project that will someday unveil the bountiful appearance of witch hazel, service berry and dogwood shrubs where invasive plants once grew.
There, led by the careful eye of experts, the hard work of these volunteers are slowly transforming that ruddy gray ground into a garden, where tall flowers like oak leaf hydrangea will grow next to blue wood aster, and where tufted hair grass will form a stunning groundcover beside creeping raspberry.
The concept that has become the Nottingham Green Boulevard Restoration Project began last October, when organizer Lisa King reached out to her neighbor Rich Stickley to become her partner in a unified commitment to restore the boulevard.
“I saw a tremendous opportunity to rehabilitate the gardens,” said King, who has lived in Nottingham Green for the past nine years.
Soon after, Angela Breuer, who has lived in the development since 1975, came on board.
“I was a high school teacher, so I have always loved the strength that comes from community, and I felt that we needed to create a sense of community here,” Breuer said. “I thought being involved and getting others to join would build a sense of cohesion and belonging to the neighborhood.”
On the heels of a social network notice that was sent to Nottingham Green residents, King joined with ten other volunteers at the site, and within four hours, the neighbors had cleared away enough invasive weeds and overgrowth – including poison ivy -- to better allow cars to pass by safely.
The project was quickly followed by several meetings, during which it was decided that a one-time excavation of the damaged area by a small but hearty group of volunteer homeowners would not be enough. In order for the project to eventually succeed, it would require the talents of gardening and horticultural experts, who could undertake the design and implementation of an entirely new boulevard landscape.
In order to get there, however, the members of the Nottingham Green Boulevard Restoration Project needed to combine the two components things that typically accompany projects of this magnitude: expertise and the funding to pay for it.
King reached out to her friend Carol Long, the curator of gardens at Winterthur Museum, Library & Gardens, and the Co-Op Extension Office at the University of Delaware, who operates a Master Gardeners program.
“The master gardeners’ assessment matched Carol’s assessment, which basically said that we have the thugs of the invasive plant world living in these beds,” King said. “They identified eight invasive species, and told us, ‘You need to take aggressive action. You’re not going to be able to solve this problem on your own.’”
This spring, King, Breuer and five other volunteers canvassed every neighborhood throughout the 435-door development, and raised more than $1,200 in door-to-door donations. In May, the group launched a Go Fund Me page, that read:
“If we, as the owners of this property, all chip in a little, a lot can be accomplished. Our goals are to prune and stabilize the major trees, remove the invasive plants, and then prepare the gardens for new plantings. The cost for the pro’s work is $3,930. We’ve already raised over $1,200! Once they’re done, the rest of the elbow grease will come from our neighborhood group. Any funds raised beyond the current goal will be used for new plantings. How can you help?”
Within six weeks of the Go Fund Me posting, the Nottingham Green Boulevard Restoration Project had raised $8,700.
The outpouring of community support completely financed the project’s first two phases – removing invasive plants and conducting tree service – which are being performed by Verdant Plant Health Care, a Montchanin-based, environmentally-responsible landscaping company, and Brandywine Tree Services, who have trimmed the black locust trees and removed invasive species like Bradford pear, Japanese barberry and honeysuckle. The remaining funding will go toward the project’s third phase – the selection and implementation of the garden beds, which are being designed by Elisabeth Davis, an Agricultural Sciences student at the University of Delaware and the owner of Ellie’s Garden and Landscaping, LLC, and will likely be planted next spring.
While the “heavy lifting” involved in the restoration at the corner of Radcliffe Drive and Nottingham Road is now in the hands of the experts, much of the cosmetic work is still being done by neighbors. Over the next several months and into 2023, homeowners will be repurposing the river rock walls of the beds and preparing a mulch made from tree bark and leaves that will be spread and hopefully lead to soil improvement and drought tolerant beds that gives native plants a fighting chance to grow and proposer.
To King and Breuer, the tasks ahead for the Nottingham Green Boulevard Restoration Project will not just be about restoring, planting and maintaining.
“We all needed something to connect us back together after two years of being apart and alone,” Breuer said. “This is that project.”
“Everyone associated with these efforts feels strongly about the idea of community engagement, which began softly but has continued to build,” King said. “There is a much larger purpose for all of us here, because it provides opportunities for neighbors to get to know their neighbors.
“I think we have tackled this project from a divide and conquer approach, and while I am confident that this project will help drive future projects, right now we’re at the stage of celebrating our success.”
To learn more about the Nottingham Green Boulevard Project or for ideas on how you can work with your neighbors to help beautify your Newark neighborhood, email Lisa King at [email protected].
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].