Janesville61.9°

Yard of the month program highlights residents’ efforts

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 23, 2010

A block from Wilson Elementary School is a yard so perfectly mowed and edged, it looks like an ad for lawn fertilizer.


Just across the Five Points’ railroad tracks, on the corner of Ravine and Terrace streets, is another stunner. Dahlias and other annuals spill over the edges of a raised flowerbed. The thin strip of land between the house and the street is also filled with plants and statuary.


Two entirely different yards, one honor: Yard of the Month.


In July, the Neighborhood Action Team started the Yard of the Month program to demonstrate its appreciation for residents in the Fourth Ward and Look West neighborhoods who take care of their yards. Each winner gets a $25 gift card to K&W Greenery, a Yard of the Month sign for the yard and the chance to pick the next month’s winners.


The project is funded by a community development block grant designed to stabilize struggling neighborhoods.


Both areas have struggled with dilapidated rentals and homeowners who don’t have the means—or the interest—to care for the exteriors of their homes.


But interspersed between those bad examples are beautifully cared-for homes with lawns to match.


Heidi Holden, Neighborhood Action Team member, said the committee was excited about picking the first round of winners.


“But the second month, it was even better because when I brought the signs to the houses, I was able to say, ‘One of your neighbors picked you,’” Holden said. “They’re just overwhelmed, and it was so neat to see the look of pride on their faces.”


Each month, from April to November, three homes will be picked in each of the two neighborhoods.


Melinda Truehart and Garry Nickel’s home, 475 Racine St., was a July pick. The yard, which is surrounded by a decorative black fence, is filled with treasures scrounged from the landfill: rose of Sharon, a mulberry bush and snapdragons. Truehart and Nickel nursed the plants along, pruning them for best effect.


In the side yard, a mature red maple picks up the colors in the home’s trim.


Nickel moved into the home 17 years ago and picked the neighborhood because he saw its potential for improvement.


“I wanted to be a beacon. I wanted to make a difference,” Nickel said.


He’s not sure that the neighborhood has improved significantly since he moved in, but he and Truehart are still house-proud. He raised his kids there, and the couple are now raising their grandchildren.


Across from Mercy Hospital, Deb and Fred Grams tend to a tidy yard that expresses the personality of both owners.


Fred likes neat, straight lines, while Deb prefers a riot of plants and colors. She even embraces “volunteer” plants growing out of the compost pile.


Lavender plants bask on the sunny side of the house, while plants such as coral bells, bleeding heart and astilbe line the narrow shady strip between the house and the driveway. In back, perennials and sweet and hot peppers line the edges of the yards.


In front, a columnar weeping evergreen provides a focal point.


Throughout both neighborhoods, tidy yards seem to run in clusters, as though one person’s landscaping was catching.


“That’s what we’re hoping, that this is contagious,” said Kelly Lee, neighborhood development specialist for the city.


The winning yards vary from the elaborate to simply tidy. The home at 321 South Franklin St., for example, has a neat row of short arborvitae in front and along the sides. Hosta line the walk to the front door.


“It doesn’t have to be somebody who has an English garden in their yard,” said Lee. “It just has to be somebody who cares about the appearance of the exterior of their home.”



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