The Baytree Community Garden in Observatory Hill, started by Northsider Doug Deckert, is an example of residents working together to make their neighborhood safer and more beautiful.

By Samantha Luu

If you are looking for a serene slice of nature in the middle of the city, the Baytree Community Garden in Observatory Hill is a growing spot you might be interested in visiting. Located at 3712 Baytree St., this community garden is open to visitors and volunteers, continuing to cement the Observatory Hill, Inc. (OHI) commitment to the beautification and safety of its neighborhood.

Doug Deckert, Assistant Treasurer of OHI, was the driving force behind the garden. He moved to Baytree Street in 2007 to be closer to his son, who was already residing in the neighborhood with his family. He instantly fell in love with the Northside’s charm and friendly residents.

Deckert’s favorite part of the garden is the back of it, near a
sloping, wooded hillside. The land is not usable for cultivation, he said, so instead, it’s become a quiet seating area: a highlight for bird watchers, readers and nature lovers. Parents are invited to bring their children along to take advantage of the open space and sandbox. There are three raised beds which house various types of vegetation. This season, a volunteer planted pumpkin seeds. Deckert invites anyone who wants a few tomatoes to “feel free to take some.”

This year’s goal is to finish construction of a 16 foot by 16 foot patio and fire pit. In the future, Deckert and OHI plan to add a dog run where neighbors can associate while their pets enjoy some leash-free time. They would also like to install a water capture and storage system and flower beds. Eventually, picnic tables would be added to finish out the project and a representative from OHI stated that they are planning to utilize the space for some special community gatherings, sponsored by Observatory Hill.

According to Deckert, the first “seeds” of the garden came in the form of three abandoned homes on Baytree Street. These “nuisance” properties were attracting crime and were also becoming a safety hazard due to their deteriorating condition. Approximately 10 years ago, OHI was able to purchase and demolish all of them. They first attempted to
sell the vacant lots to recoup some of their money, but when no buyers came forward, Deckert and the Council were inspired to develop the area into a community garden.

The total property size is 98.33 feet by 110.25 feet but only 98.33 feet by 55 feet of the land is currently being used. The project was made possible with the assistance of two groups: Grounded Strategies, formerly known as Growth through Energy and Community Health (GTECH), and The Reclaim Northside Ambassadors Program. Funding was provided by grants through the Buhl Foundation and the Alcoa Foundation.

Work began on the garden in 2015. Local artist Linda Wallen designed signs prominently displaying the name and address for all visitors and passing traffic. The existing steps from the sidewalk on Baytree Street were left intact, for ease of access to the garden. One volunteer donated chicken wire to fence off a section of the garden that’s in progress. Permanent fencing is a goal for the future to both help discourage animals from damaging the garden and to add an aesthetic touch. Baytree Community Garden is free to the public. It’s open seven days a week and 24 hours a day. According to Deckert, since the garden’s inception, there have been no instances of crime or vandalism. Everyone on the Northside is invited to pay a visit. For more information, call OHI at 412-736-2489 or visit its homepage.