Green alleys of St. Paul


Teams of volunteer judges have walked miles and miles of alleys through the Mac-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul and placed their hand-made award flags in hundreds of alley gardens. The Alley Garden Awards and Tour have been a staple event in this neighborhood for the past 20 years.  (Slide show below.)

The 2011 Garden Alley Award Tour runs from Monday, July 11th through Sunday, July 17th, and is self-guided.  A map may be downloaded from the Macalester Groveland Community Council website or picked up at the Edgcumbe or Groveland Recreation Center. For more information, call 651-695-4000.

Staff member Lauren Anderson coordinates the program.  “We’re seeing very creative uses of alley space,” said Anderson.  She is seeing trends this year of people using more native plants, and also people growing more vegetables along the alley. Some alley gardens are elaborate, containing neatly terraced slopes and abundant with flowers.  Others are very simple.  Award flags were present in gardens containing just a couple of tomato plants.

Award winner Jerry Sandahl has been growing flowers in his yard since 1962, and said he and many of his neighbors have kept alley gardens since long before the awards were given.  You can see more of his backyard from the alley now that he cut his back fence down to size.  Neighborhood kids thought it was fun to see how much they could swing the fence back and forth, so he cut it down to half before it fell over.

Marianne Yoshida believes she was one of the first to plant an alley garden in 1992, the year the program began. The alley that she and Sandahl share boasts many award flags this year and is awash in color.  “People tell us ‘we walk the alleys just because we love your alley here,’” said Yoshida, who started the alley garden because she had no sun in her front yard.   “Alleys are just more interesting, period. They give you a sense of who people are and how they live.”

The annual event grew out of an effort to reduce crime through beautification of the neighborhood and is carried out by the Beautification Committee of Macalester Groveland Community Council.  Neighbors also report it to be a community building event, and say they know the neighbors across the alley better than they know neighbors across the street.

To be eligible for an award, the garden must be along the alley, be weed-free and well-maintained, and contribute to the character and beauty of the alley by being litter free and neat.  Additionally, the property must have an easily recognizable house number visible from the alley.

(All photos by Cynthia Frost)