Welcome to the second installment of Grower’s Spotlight, a series created to cultivate virtual community with other local growers while we’re all physically distant from each other. If you follow along with Grow Pittsburgh on social media, you may remember the calls to support the garden group at Larimer’s African Healing Garden in reaching their $10,000 GoFundMe goal after it plateaued around $7,000 in what’s been a multi-year fundraising effort. All of you in our community of growers came through with support for the garden, raising the final $3,000 (and beyond) in just a few short days! Following this exciting achievement to make improvements to the garden’s pond and front walkway, we were fortunate to sit down with Ms. Betty Lane, the valiant leader of the garden, for this installment of Grower’s Spotlight. 

Betty Lane, affectionately known by many as Ms. Betty, is a lifelong Pittsburgher, retired social worker, and coordinator of the African Healing Garden. Born and raised in the Hill District, Ms. Betty moved to Larimer in the 1970s. She soon became a tireless community advocate, setting up the Larimer Homeowners Association, Community Watch, and sitting on the board for the Larimer Consensus Group. The African Healing Garden is just her latest work of heart. Located on Meadow Street in Larimer, the garden was established in 2015, though she says it’s hardly recognizable from what it once was.

Years before, a house that once stood on the lot burned down in a fire. After purchasing the lot, Ora Lee Carroll, a friend of Ms. Betty’s and longtime neighborhood activist in Larimer, had the soil tested and started doing some planting in the space. Ms. Betty, the longtime manager of the women’s shelter at the time, never really had the time to spend time there herself. Following Carroll’s passing and now in her retirement, Ms. Betty turned her sights to the garden, wanting to provide Larimer with a “healing space”, noting the years of gang-related violence she lived through as a resident just down the street from the garden. She and some other residents and volunteers she rounded up started planting some fruit trees to complement the existing pear tree (pictured) at the center of the garden: two peach trees, an elderberry tree, an almond tree, and a few paw paws. 

Along with the fruit trees, there is also a medicinal herb bed and a number of different kinds of edible berries growing, though Ms. Betty is clear that her chief priority is creating a space that “touches people’s senses”, the smells of the herbs and flowers, the sounds of the pond and birds, the feel of the soft, fuzzy Lamb’s Ear leaves. “I think all of those things are needed for healing and to sit in an environment that provides that. That’s what I want, for people to say they’re better for being here,” she says.

More than just the plants growing there, the African Healing Garden is really a work of community. The wrought iron fence along the front sidewalk was donated from a church down the street, the youth-focused Mobile Sculpture Workshop constructed the eye catching, landmark arch at the entrance of the garden, local artist John Peña created the brightly-colored animal cutouts decorating the fence. “The community really has shown up for all aspects of it,” Ms Betty notes. This continues to be the case as the garden group continues to improve. There are plans for a community oven in one corner of the garden, expansion of the “Leopard’s Lair” children’s area, and bringing in more pollinator-friendly plants. When asked about her long term dreams for the African Healing Garden, Ms. Betty envisions the garden expanding to adjacent lots to become an even larger oasis for community members. “People gravitate to this garden. If you wanna come, volunteer, play a big part, a little part, whatever. Everyone’s welcome.” Want to be a part of this valuable community gathering space? The group welcomes volunteers to join them every Saturday morning during the growing season beginning at 11 am, at 160 Meadow Street in Larimer.

Know another local gardener you’d like to see in the Growers Spotlight? Maybe it’s you! Drop us a line to be featured in our next newsletter or on our blog.