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Feeding people, butterflies and birds

Phoenix resident Karen McNaughton couldn't help but smile Thursday as a group of fluttering white butterflies and a steady flow of tiny finches investigated some newly planted vegetables and a crimson-colored clematis at her new favorite green space.

Brimming with flowers, veggies, a seating area, bird feeders and special bushes to attract butterflies and bees, the city's latest community garden was designed to give residents of Brookside Rose Apartments, where McNaughton lives, a nice place to enjoy.

The new garden used to be a weedy right-of-way strip adjacent to Phoenix High School where McNaughton and others would go to chat, smoke or walk their dogs.

"They don't allow smoking on the property, so a lot of people walk over here. We were sitting outside one day and looking at all these weeds and bushes against the fence. Finally I decided I would at least pull the weeds," McNaughton said.

"I got to thinking we could do more, so I called the city and said, 'I think I'm planting a garden.' "

A Pennsylvania native who grew up on a farm and has been a lifelong gardener, McNaughton worked with city officials and members of the Phoenix Garden Club and Blue Heron Park Community Garden to come up with a plan for the space.

Intrigued by the idea, various residents and agencies got on board, each contributing small amounts to help McNaughton and other neighbors transform the space.

City Manager Steve Dahl gave his nod of approval to the project and encouraged state transportation crews to share some garden soil with the neighbors.

After the dirt was delivered, Phoenix High School FFA students helped fill the areas to be planted, and Public Works Director Kevin Caldwell helped arrange for a basic irrigation setup to spare residents from having to drag a hose across the parking lot each day.

Flower and veggie starts came largely from the Phoenix Garden Club, while McNaughton scavenged bits and pieces from various resale stores for the seating area, including a bench, an umbrella for the table donated by the apartment complex and various bird feeders to hang in a tree near the center of the garden.

"While it was all coming together, we would come to check on it and find flowers or stuff to plant on the table," McNaughton said.

"Some people couldn't help do the planting, but they wanted to help."

The space now contains an assortment of veggies, including zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins and cucumbers, as well as a rose and clematis vine planted by residents in honor of late family members.

A tiny "Our Community Garden" sign is joined by two others, a Phoenix Beatification Award presented by Mayor Jeff Bellah and a sign identifying the site as a Monarch Wayside. Such waysides (www.monarchwatch.org) are geared toward increasing monarch habitat and are being encouraged by garden clubs around the area.

Brookside Rose resident Jessica Gutierrez said the new space is inspiring.

"It was really horrid before all this got started," she said. "We love how it turned out."

Phoenix Garden Club member Sandy Wine said the garden was a great collaboration between community groups and provides a nice combination of green space, fresh produce and a boost for birds and butterflies.

"I think the response from the city was encouraging, and I love how the different groups in the community were all willing to chip in to help put this together," Wine said.

"Karen is an amazing individual. It takes a lot of vision to look at absolutely nothing and to create something so beautiful."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Karen McNaughton sets out food to attract finches and hummingbirds to the newly created Phoenix community garden. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Finches are now a regular sight in the newly created community garden in Phoenix. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell