Maureen Tate became a gardener because of a killing.
In the 1980s, during the era Maureen calls the “The Crack Period,” Cedar Park neighborhood residents organized drug vigils on the corner of 49th Street and Baltimore Avenue where they would stand in shifts all night and ‘stare down dealers’ to try to prevent them from doing business.
“We were trying to regain control of our streets,” Maureen explained.
Another intimidating location was the vacant lot at the corner of 49th and Florence Avenue. “The corner lot was trashed all the time and it was dangerous,” said Maureen, who has been the block captain of 4800 Florence Avenue since 1982. “The neighbors were feeling really threatened.”
When a Viet Namese immigrant was murdered in his home next to that lot in 1983, she and her neighbors decided that they had to act. They removed the trash, built flower beds and filled them with daisies, lilies, and tulips. They named it Florence Garden. “Our garden made us feel we were reclaiming that space and staking our presence.”
The transformation required patience, and several years of work. When they started, Maureen had never gardened. “Everything I know about gardening, I learn at Florence Garden.”
She and a handful of others maintained Florence Garden for 20 years. It won second place in the city’s garden contest in 1989.
“It was beautiful.”
Eventually the city sold the property in a sheriff sale and the owner built four townhouses on it.
Cedar Park is now experiencing a period of more stability and reinvestment. “It’s such a relief to see happy people on our street.” Tate remains very active on her block as well as with Cedar Park Neighbors. She continues to garden in public spaces, organizing crews to build and maintain flower beds around Cedar Park.