South Memphis woman turns blight into garden that feeds neighbors

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Juanita Horton scuttles around her garden, watching over her precious plants like the owl that’s always perched there.

She showed us flowers, vegetables, fruits and even herbs; the way she’s decided to flavor her south Memphis street where she said homes get knocked down often as people age and leave.

But the 73 year old also has plenty of flavor herself.

“Everybody in the neighborhood has been here for years. The children are grown. So we just ‘round for the countdown,” Horton said.

She started a small garden eight years ago on a vacant plot of land.

"An old shotgun house used to be here. The lady died. After a few years they tore it down,” she said. "At the time the mayor said if anybody spotted land near them, to save the city money, raise a garden.”

It’s now grown into a massive garden that fills the entire plot.

We tried to nail down exactly how many species she had. Each time she proudly started naming them.

“I got four kinds of butter beans. I got Lima beans. I got speckled. I got brown turkey,” she said.

After asking repeatedly for a total, we all gave up.

“Thyme, tarragon, sage, and dill. I lose count!”

Safe to say, we agreed there is nearly 100 different plants.

Horton said she moved around a lot as a girl, between Illinois, Mississippi and Arkansas. In every plac e her family grew its own food.

"When you're a kid you didn't like it because you were made to do it. When I grew up and I saw how delicious the food was compared to store-bought. Fresh green beans — you can't beat that out of the garden. Fresh tomatoes off the vine. You can't beat the taste. So I just do it," she said.

But now Horton has been on Walk Place for a long time. She grows for fun and gladly donates to neighbors.

“I moved here September 9, 1969,” she said. “If they want it, they ask for it. It’s free for the asking,” she said.

“Whatever you need, Miss Juanita got it," said Kenny Dalton, one of Horton's neighbors who gets fresh food from her garden. “She gives me like a bag of tomatoes, greens, cabbages, peppers. I’ve actually had high cholesterol, so it helps me a lot.”

Dalton said he also appreciates the view; flowers and plants now color an empty lot.

“It’s a fantastic job she does because it actually controls blight. We don’t have to worry about trash and high weeds,” he said.

Instead of weeds, the fennel is now taller than she is.

But you better believe this feisty grandmother is proud of her planted offspring.

Horton said she's had multiple back surgeries.

"It keeps me busy, keeps me active," she said of gardening.

Gardening isn’t always easy but in this maze of vegetation, it’s easy to see how she’s sprucing up her entire community.

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