The Park That Asheville Forgot

As of today I am a volunteer at the George Washington Carver Edible Park in Asheville’s Stephens-Lee neighborhood.


My friend Rowan and I go there often and have been struck by two things.

One, the park is beautiful and a good place to visit.

Two, it is in absolutely desperate need of attention.

When you go there, you can gather nigella seeds, snack on sweet grape tomatoes and pick a bouquet of mint and sweet peas for your living room. Just watch out for condom wrappers, broken glass, whiskey bottles and holes in the boardwalk big enough to catch an unwary ankle.


Last Tuesday I went to an organizational meeting for new park volunteers. It seems that the guy who usually looks after the park is out of town and the park hasn’t had a lick of help or care since April. Four months of neglect.

Today I learned that there is confusion as to who will provide maintenance for the park: The volunteers of the Bountiful Cities Project or the city of Asheville. As the Powers That Be work this conundrum out, this is what is happening to a park full of valuable and beautiful mature fruit and nut trees:




I cleaned up all the garbage I could get today except for the carpet of broken glass on the stairs, the screw-top bottlecaps I could not pry loose from the earth and the garbage under the boardwalk that was too hard to get to. It took me three hours.

I am not squeamish, but when I was done touching the things I had to touch today, even with work gloves on, I marched right to the Stephens-Lee Center and washed my hands.

There were three of us there today including a professional horticulturist who told me a lot about kudzu, which he had written a thesis on. In just three hours we made a tremendous difference. It was deeply gratifying. Kids could play here now.

I love gardens. I love organic fruit and nuts from local gardens. I love to be outside. And I dearly love to open a can of Ms. Saylor’s Finest Southern Whoop-Ass on a commons in disarray.

Below are images that explain why we worked so hard. Because this place is beautiful, and it should be cared for so that the people of Asheville can enjoy it. It should be a place where children can play without finding used condoms or stepping in shattered glass.

This is where the condom wrapper pictured above and a whole big yard bag’s worth of garbage was.



Downtown Asheville and a fig tree that would get a pruning.


Another fig. Despite the frost and the drought that killed all the other fruit in the garden, the indefatigable figs have plenty for people and birds alike. They’ll be ripe soon, too.

I don’t know what this tree is, but it’s beautiful.


One of my favorite things in the garden, an uncommon and uncommonly beautiful pure white mallow:


Aside from figs and mallows, the park has the following:






mulberry (they’re ripe; come on over and get some)


There’s also herbs and flowers. Sunflowers, sweet pea, comfrey, lemon balm, mint, wild violet.

If you’d like to volunteer, call 828-257-4000 or send e-mail to

See you at the park! I do love mulberries.

8 responses to “The Park That Asheville Forgot

  1. Great work, Jennifer! You are a hero. Have some mulberries for me, they are my favorite summer treat – already come and gone here in the Sandhills.

    Sad to say, littering is very common. I worked for a time at a county park near Raleigh, and people would throw their lunchtime trash into the woods. There was a trash can on the way back to their cars. They had to pass it to get to the bench. Moreover, they threw their fast food wrappers in front of the bench where they had gone to eat and look out over the lake. In plain view, not even behind them.

    I do not understand those people. Sometimes I think they are a different species.

    The other park employees made no attempt to police the trash up – they just walked right by. Burned out, maybe, or just lazy? The pay certainly didn’t inspire commitment – I left after two months, and doubled my income working in an office. Not as lovely, but much easier to pay my bills.

  2. Well, the problem in THIS park seems to be that a long period of neglect and lack of presence of park wardens and visitors have opened it to frequent use by homeless people and homeless alcoholics. Thus the dozens of broken whiskey bottles, Wild Irish Rose and Miller High Life in the big-ass bottles. When we showed up to volunteer, someone had set up a tent in the park, big as life, not even trying to hide it. As we talked a group of homeless teens showed up to lie in the grass and smoke. I figured they had been the ones leaving McDonald’s bags and wrappers.

    As I cleaned up trash yesterday I found two stashes of clothing hidden under the boardwalk. I was not sure what to do with them. One stash wasn’t even really hidden. I think word has gotten out that this is the park where anything goes. Come and camp, bring a tent, stash a change of clothes, smash your bottle on the ground and piss over there by the bench. Yesterday I walked through peed-on grass and picked up THONG PANTILINERS.

    We’ll see what happens going forward, now that volunteers are a presence again. I’ve asked for a permanent trash receptacle (all the city had provided was a big plastic bin that people kept stealing) and a bike rack, which I hope will encourage bike traffic and visits from people on bikes. I’d also like to get the neighborhood involved, and maybe take Rowan’s absolutely adorable little neighbor kids on a “field trip.” If you’ve ever seen kids encounter plants (seeds, dirt, roots, fruit, bugs), you know it’s magic.

  3. I’d love to have a field trip! And yes, good work!!! I took my new puppy, Sullivan, to the park and was astounded by the work that was done. Of course I couldn’t get down the stairs with a puppy over the carpet of broken glass without carrying all 40 pounds of him. I’m in, you can count me in to be a part of the clean-up. I cant’ carry this guy UP the stairs too!!! The figs do look close, and mulberries and tomatoes…. yumm, they were so good. I’m so glad to live in a neighborhood with an edible garden, and I’m so blessed to have friends like you who care to keep it a safe and friendly place. want to come over and go for a walk?? I promise not to plant thong pantiliners in the garden. eeeeewwwwwwwergggggwwwhhaaaaaakkkkk.

  4. Going there this afternoon, heat and humidity notwithstanding.

    Thanks for showing this to me.

  5. I went, even in the heat, and had a fine time.

    with picture and story from the edge.

  6. This is awesome. I’m so glad to have you as a volunteer. I feel like things are really going to start happening!

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