When HCC’s Jordan Carswell first heard about the Westchase District’s Community Garden, he knew it was a great opportunity for HCC and its West Houston Institute to become involved in the community. “The Community Garden fit in with goals that we were already working on,” said Carswell, the college’s director of innovation strategy. “Prior to the pandemic, there was interest in this kind of activity, but COVID zapped all that. This is a great opportunity to engage our students and staff and get them connected with the community,” said Carswell.

Tracy Gee Community Center Director Melissa Venegas invites seniors who enjoy gardening to tend to the center’s adopted planter.

From garden to community garden
The Community Garden is located within the newly opened Woodchase Park at 3951 Woodchase Drive. It is made up of 16 corten steel planters seeded with various herbs, including rosemary, basil, mint, Lemon Grass, chives and Mexican Marigold Mint. Now the planters are being turned over to businesses, organizations and private citizens who will take responsibility for planting and maintaining the individual gardens. Maintenance responsibilities include pruning, monitoring irrigation and rainfall, and installing new herbs and plants as the original plants are harvested or die off. Each team will visit their planter at least once a week.

Westchase District conducted a training session for all the community partners in April and the partners took over maintenance of the planters on May 1.

The District provided a suggested list of plants and herbs based on experience of what will work and what will not work in this environment. The spring/summer list of plants includes basil, okra, mint, Lemon Grass, Southern Pea, Snap Southern Pea, green peppers, cilantro, ginger, arugula and peppercorn.

The District approved some plantings not on its original list, including avocado, aloe and parsley. American InterContinental University is planting zinnias in their bed, which can be used to make tea.

Each planter features the name of the organization whom adopted it.

Gardening enthusiasts
Melissa Venegas adopted a planter on behalf of Precinct 4 and the Tracy Gee Community Center. “I wanted to have a new activity for our seniors,” said Venegas, who is director of the community center. “I wanted to give them an opportunity to do more than just come to the center and go home. I love this program because it gives us a chance to get out in the community.”

Venegas is soliciting volunteers from the regulars who visit the Tracy Gee Community Center every day. She says many are gardening enthusiasts and she plans to dedicate a weekly time when they’d all travel to the park together to tend to their planter. She said that right now they’re maintaining what was in the planter. But as those herbs are harvested, she’ll solicit ideas from the seniors about what to plant next.

The team at Ashford Communities is pursuing a similar strategy. With three apartment communities that total more than 1100 units within walking distance of Woodchase Park, Ashford was quick to adopt one of the planters. Maduforo Eze, Ashford’s director of business development & marketing, said they’re encouraging residents to become involved in the Community Garden. “Our goal is to create communities where our residents belong and are part of the greater community,” said Eze.

Leading that effort is Nic Alvarez, Ashford’s marketing coordinator. “We want our residents to be aware of the park and all that’s happening in Westchase District. We also hope to create some garden enthusiasts among our residents.”

Technical support available
Partnering organizations supply seeds, herbs, mulch, soil and fertilizer. Tools are available for the partners’ use and Westchase District will continue to provide irrigation. Urban Harvest, a local non-profit organization, provided the expertise to engage the community in this endeavor. And Urban Harvest will provide occasional workshops for partnering organizations to help them be successful.

The District had no trouble finding partners to adopt all 16 planters. It maintains a waiting list so that new groups can get involved when opportunities arise. If you have a green thumb that you’re itching to scratch, call Westchase District at 713-780-9434.