Garden revitalizes street, inspires generation

Charleston, SC (WCSC) - Up until three months ago, the corner of Bogard and Rutledge streets in downtown Charleston wouldn't have done much for the eye; overgrown weeds, a dead tree, and piles of garbage all symbols of a seemingly forgotten lot of land that had seen better days.

However where others saw nothing, Fritz Stine and Matt Gregory saw something; an opportunity to revitalize a neighborhood and inspire a generation.

"We'd hear it all the time.  The land is gross, unkept.  That nothing can be done with it," said Stine, a 2009 College of Charleston graduate and neighboring resident, along with Gregory.  "The more we got thinking, however, the more we got to wanting to pull a complete 180."

That 180 would prove to be a community green space; the Bogarden as it has gone to be called.

"[Stine and I] had been involved in other gardening projects in Charleston, so we saw this as an opportunity to work on a bigger project," said Gregory.  "We drew up maps, outlines.  What we wanted it to look like, all the details... [W]e wanted to bring people together.  That sort of thing doesn't happen in this neighborhood that often, at least not yet anyway."

All it would cost them was a single dollar.

"We did some research online and found the owner of the property," said Stine.  "We contacted him and he was more than willing to give us a lease.  Since he had no plans for the land, he told us he would let us have it for a dollar a month."

A dollar and a few key promises; all the work had to be done by Stine and Gregory.  Furthermore, the owner did not want to have to intervene with the process, or with corresponding media interviews.

"He's given us his total blessing," said Gregory.  "He's kind of testing us.  Letting us see how far we can get with what we've got... [The owner] is just laying low for now.  Not doing a lot of talking, not yet anyway."

So far, so good.  Stine and Gregory say they've each worked about 15 hours a week on the project since late January.  With the help of a loyal crew of about one dozen College of Charleston students and alum, the lot, which stand a little shy of 30 yards both in length and depth, now boasts numerous beds for flowers, vegetables and trees.

"It's nice to see the community, particularly the youth, come together to create something that is going to benefit everyone," said Alison Sher, volunteer.

Which, agree Stine and Gregory, is an equally impressive factoid about the Bogarden.  In a town where college students are often the source of much frustration for neighborhood associations - throwing rowdy parties, obtaining degrees only to leave the area without contributing much to existing culture - the Bogarden is sign of a youth accepting the truth and making a change.

"It's a stereotype because there is a little bit of truth to it.  Some young people can be annoying to residents and don't think of anyone but themselves," said Stine.  "However, this is us wanting to be as positive as we can and give back.  We want to leave a lasting, positive legacy on the city of Charleston."

While the official opening isn't for another week, Stines sentiment is difficult to disagree with.  Not only have they provided a place for residents of all ages a place to go to connect with each other and the environment the, staff of the Bogarden has learned to see the good in the bad; to look beyond the obvious and find that "something" that is worth fighting for - if even on a desperate parcel of land.  In doing that, they have already learned what takes other a lifetime.