THE EVIDENCE of Khenti Pratt's dedication to her Powelton Village community garden is very visible.
There's the award she won at the state Horticultural Society's City Gardens Contest several years ago.
There's hundreds of dollars' worth of receipts for supplies and materials she and other volunteers have purchased.
And then there are the plump butternut squash, tomatoes, okra and other vegetables still growing in the yard, nestled between rowhouses on Spring Garden Street near 36th.
But after 17 years of tending soil and pulling weeds, Pratt and the other volunteers have serious concerns about the garden's future after a developer bought the land earlier this year in the student-rich neighborhood. Pratt said the developer, Ramy Shraim, has told her he will not bulldoze the garden right away, but has given her little assurance beyond that.
"He said in front of the Zoning Board [of Adjustment] and he talked to me on the side, he said, 'I'm not going to bulldoze your garden right away. I'm for gardens; I want to help you actually garden,' " said Pratt, 47, who refers to the yard as her baby.
She said Shraim has offered to let them transfer the garden to one of several other properties he owns and has asked for a list of what the transfer would entail. "What we're hoping for is some kind of memorandum of understanding, be it written permission, be it a lease, but you can't just say, 'I'm not gonna bulldoze your garden,' " she said.
The garden has a long history, dating back to 1996. It was started by Pat Lyons, who lived in the neighborhood and worked at Kailo, a facility for people with chronic mental illness, which was next to the then-empty lot. She and the residents of the facility cleaned up the lot and transformed it into a green space. In the late '90s, the garden received second place for best medium-size flower and vegetable garden in the City Gardens Contest, and has also been used for gardening classes.
"The thing that most people also don't understand about a garden is it has 17 years of soil tending," said Lyons, founder and director of Oasis Arts and Education, who is still involved in the garden. "You wouldn't know it, but there is years of composting and making this plot what it is, not to mention the sense of community. And as the groups have changed and new people have come in, it's been a wonderful opportunity for new neighbors to meet each other and have that happen right here.
"Yes, we'd move to another location, but we've been historically here."
Pratt, who now lives in Wynnefield, said volunteers were shocked to learn about the sale at a zoning hearing last month for the lot next door, also owned by Shraim. She said the group had been working with City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's office to get the deed transferred to them.
Shraim, who has bought at least seven properties in the area since the beginning of last year, did not return calls for comment.
According to plans he presented to the Zoning Board of Adjustment last month, the lot next to the garden will be turned into a four-story, six-unit residential building targeting graduate students and young professionals.
Some longtime residents said they want the garden to stay.
"I think they should leave the garden there, really. I don't think they should get rid of it," said Hattie Lewis, 78, who has lived on the block since 1968. She called it "unfair" that homeowners are being pushed out in favor of student housing.
Pratt is cautiously optimistic that the garden will be saved, even though the where is unclear.
"Our hope is to have a good relationship with this guy since he's coming off as the good guy, not the evil developer from some big corporation," she said. "He says he has a vested interest in the neighborhood and community gardens."