Guerrilla gardening comes naturally to Sharon Danna as she drops by some of Buffalo’s more depressed neighborhoods to beautify neglected, barren or overgrown spaces.
By planting vibrant flowers and shrubs, Danna has cultivated community pride in gardens near the corners of Goodell and Sycamore streets, and Ohio and Louisiana streets; the outer harbor access road; lower Niagara Street at the I-190 entrance and exit; and at least five more locations.
Saturday morning found Danna on Grant Street between Hampshire Street and West Delavan Avenue, planting 700 daffodil bulbs around 52 trees. She rarely works alone.
The school psychologist for Franklinville Central School District was accompanied by her husband, John, and their son Ryan, 21. Her son brought his friends from the University at Buffalo Golfers Association. Her husband brought a trowel.
Rounding out the brigade were two Ethiopians who emigrated to the Grant-Hampshire neighborhood last year, Danna’s best friend and former bridesmaid, Kathy Finaldi, and former student Grace Williams. And dozens of buzzing bees.
Danna met Kassahun Abebe, 38, from southern Ethiopia and Rezene Asfaha from Eritrea through Bible study.
“Sharon is like my mom,” said Abebe. “She cares about me and my family. My wife is in Uganda.”
Danna, who is 54, was born in Michigan, and attended nine different schools as her parents moved around the country. She said she was a rebellious teen, and then became a Christian. She volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, and talked about starting a “Friends of Rachel” club at Franklinville two years ago. Rachel Scott was the first person killed at the Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999.
“I was on a home visit for school, and I noticed the house was falling apart on the outside. Home Depot donated all the supplies. Friends of Rachel got 40 volunteers together and painted their house. She wanted bright yellow but we painted it white. I had to put my foot down on that one.”
As Danna is talking, planting proceeds around her. Growing plants under demanding conditions posed by guerilla gardening is a challenge, especially when it comes to watering, she said. First Danna fills 10 five-gallon jugs.
“I drive, pull over and they jump out and water,” Danna said pointing to Abebe and Asfaha. “Watering can be a nightmare. When we first starting planting on Grant, people would come up to us and ask us why we were doing it, that the plants would just disappear. Not a single flower has been taken out. People get a bum rap on this street.”
Merchants are also encouraged to water the new plantings in front of their store.
Kimberly Watkins has owned and operated Paiden International Styles at 81 Grant for two years. On Saturday, Watkins’ son, Trevon Harrell, 17, was at the shop door, locking and unlocking it to let customers enter and leave. From his post at the front of the store, Harrell noticed the bulb planting.
“The beautification is stepping it up,” Watkins said. “When I first got here eight years ago, Grant Street had a lot of prostitution. I called my councilman and asked for a cleanup. They put a camera there,” she said, pointing out the window to the intersection of Grant and Arnold Street. “The streetwalkers are slowly moving on. It seems like each step is taking us to where we need to be.”