Hidden in one of Lafayette’s oldest neighborhoods, nestled between the railroad tracks and the paved streets, is a vegetable garden that nurtures the ideals of Freetown’s residents.
“The garden was established to bring the community together and to see each other regularly, which we do,” said community gardener Joe Paris, a Freetown resident who lives across the street from the community garden near East Vermilion and Garfield streets.
“There’s about a dozen folks who participate in the garden,” Paris said, and others who just come to visit. “Oh, I’ve met 30 people in our neighborhood who just stop by because they notice what I planted.”
The garden boasts ripe cucumbers hiding under the leaves of its vine, basil, parsley, cilantro, sage and even a small young tomato or two.
Also, still standing tall in the garden is a sunflower that earlier this summer was charted as the tallest in the city by KATC-TV3. Recently, this flower turned its face away from the sun to look down at the vegetation growing around it — a sign the seeds are maturing and will soon fall. At an astounding 15 feet tall, this sunflower is one of the more than 100 sunflowers Paris planted there since March.
“Most folks have planted what you would normally plant in a garden, but I decided early on that I was going to follow my grandmother and grandfather’s advice and plant something spectacular,” Paris said.
He planted his sunflowers in succession to ensure that whatever time of the year it was, there would always be some blooming in the garden. He also planted several varieties of the flower, such as the Mexican varieties, the Southwest U.S. varieties and the Russian mammoth sunflower.
The garden was established last fall by the Lafayette Consolidated Government and Freetown residents. Most of the materials used in the garden, such as the cinder blocks that border it, the pottery and the soil, were donated.
“We hope that this inspires other communities (in Lafayette) to create their own community gardens in their own neighborhoods, whether it be by Lafayette High, out in the deep southside, on the northside,” Paris said.
Newly planted in Freetown’s garden are this year’s pumpkins, which have just begun to peek through their doughnut-shaped mounds. They were planted early in July in anticipation of having them perfect and ripe for carving as a jack-o-lantern at Halloween time. Gardeners interested in growing their own pumpkins should plant their seeds before July 31 to ensure the gourd will have enough time to grow for Halloween.
Aspiring gardeners in Freetown can receive their own plots in the garden — 10 feet long, 4 feet wide — for a fee of $10 per year, which helps pay the water bill for the garden.
There’s even a corner of the garden that has compost prepared by local residents.
“We love the phrase ‘all life started in a garden,’ because it makes us go back to what we heard as children and different Bible stories and the Garden of Eden,” Paris said. “Luckily for our garden, there are no snakes or apples to tempt anyone, but we have plenty of other wonderful temptations to make you come visit!”