WHEN KETTIE Eugene arrived in Oxford Circle from her native Haiti 11 years ago, she brought along her parents' attitude toward growing your own vegetables.
"If you don't grow, you don't eat," Eugene said on a recent Sunday morning, tending the plants in her raised bed at the Take Back Your Neighborhood community garden, dressed in an elegant red outfit because she had come directly from early Mass at Our Lady of Ransom Church.
Being the best-dressed urban gardener in Northeast Philadelphia didn't cramp Eugene's style as she hand-watered her cucumbers, zucchini, snow peas, collard greens, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and cabbage with a sprinkler can, and planted marigolds to keep the ladybugs away.
"Just like nursing a child," said Eugene, a special-education teacher at Blankenburg Elementary School, Girard Avenue at 46th Street, Parkside. "I raise them as if I was raising a little girl."
The new community garden - nine 48-square-foot, wood-frame, raised beds - in the small park next to Max Myers rec center is as diverse as Oxford Circle.
Besides Eugene from Haiti, the gardeners include several families from Darfur and an Asian woman who lives nearby.
"We don't get a lot of Asian people to our meetings, but if you walk around the neighborhood, there are a lot of Asian people growing things on their front lawns," said Pam Baranackie, neighborhood spark plug and green thumb.
"One day, I noticed that a mystery gardener was planting bok choy and tomatoes in our one empty bed. Turned out to be the Asian woman who conducts morning tai-chi classes next to the garden. If someone's tomato plant is wilting, she'll throw some water on it. She's very helpful."
Before the first seed was planted, Baranackie saved the garden, which almost didn't happen because it lacks a nearby water source.
She asked the firefighters at Engine 71, Ladder 28, on Cottman Avenue near Castor, if they would be willing to keep the garden's three big water barrels filled. "We couldn't do this without them," Baranackie said.
Her husband built the platform for the barrels. Her brother-in-law helped build the garden beds with Michael Hoy, a neighbor who happened to be jogging by when the lumber arrived in gardener Yolanda Maldonado's son's pickup truck, and pitched in to help.
Hoy and gardener Paulette Rodriguez painted the benches "sunny yellow," Baranackie said, looking up from planting a bed of red impatiens with Hoy, as a floral centerpiece for the garden.
Hoy, a man of many construction skills, is not a gardener. "I might be out here at night, eating with the varmints when the harvest comes," he told Baranackie.
They laughed, then got back to planting.