By Sarah Kuper
After years spent making cakes beautiful, former Savage’s Bakery owner Van Scott has now turned his artistic eye to the area outside the Homewood institution.
Passing the bakery on to his daughter has given him the freedom to branch out, Scott said.
“I’m there every day but I don’t have to be monitoring employees or answering the phone. With all that time on my hands, I redirected my energies to the outside. I like to be outside making things beautiful. Just like decorating a cake,” Scott said.
To say Scott has been diligent about keeping a tidy garden would be an exponential understatement.
Scott, who owns and maintains several properties on the west side of 18th Street in downtown Homewood, has taken urban landscaping to a new level.
It all started with the alley behind Savage’s.
“It always bothered me that it was so neglected and ugly. You think of an alley as a useless place you dump extra boxes and junk. But an alley can have a lot of charm,” Scott said.
Scott’s vision wasn’t just sweeping up and scattering some seeds. To give a feel for the scope of his work, here is a partial list of supplies he used: concrete saw, jackhammer, industrial wheelbarrow (loaded and unloaded by hand more than 60 times), 25 bags of concrete rock, 20 bags of sand, 53 bags of Black Kow manure and 63 bags of cement mix.
That doesn’t even include the plants, bushes and built-by-hand lattice to provide more shade.
After months of hard manual labor and landscape dreaming, Scott’s vision is in bloom.
“And this is just year one for a lot of these plants. A lot of beauty won’t show up until year two or three.”
Whimsical Chinese paper flowers, climbing red roses and purple clematis accented with pops of wildflowers make the road behind Savage’s less of an alley and more of a lane through a secret garden.
Scott said his work has been catching the admiring eye of passersby, but he recalls that not everyone understood his mission.
“I gave up trying to tell them. I said, ‘Just wait and see.’ They didn’t see what I saw, but now I think they do.”
Scott, who grew up with a love of landscaping and gardening, believes his work is important to the city of Homewood.
“The alley has turned into a gem of a place and I would love for the city of Homewood to think along those lines. Homewood will only become more of a destination. No space should be neglected. With effort, we could keep this an eye-popping place,” he said.
Scott is appreciative of the way the city cares for most things, but he doesn’t see eye to eye on a few things with regard to public spaces.
Scott said he wishes the city would address the issue of the large trees flanking 18th Street. Problems with tree debris clogging drainage systems and causing flooding came to the city’s attention two years ago, but officials decided not to take the trees down.
Scott disagreed with the decision and said that, aesthetically, there are many better options that would still be in keeping with Homewood’s charm and make less of a mess.
“Cherry trees or even crape myrtle lining the street. That would be a sight to see coming down 18th Street in the springtime,” he said.
A look at gardening magazines or a flip through the home improvement channels show that urban gardening is in vogue. But whether it is a row of shrubs in front of a McDonald’s or a cutting garden outside a shoe store, Alabama Urban Regional Extension Agent Sallie Lee said gardeners have to take a few things into consideration.
“You have to keep plants back from the walkway. Trees need to be trimmed – no one wants to get hit in the face with a scraggly branch. Be aware of what kind of insect your plants will attract, like bees versus butterflies.”
Lee also mentions being mindful of the garden’s watering needs and whether run-off will interfere with foot traffic.
For his part, Scott said he hopes his hard work accomplishes all he set out to do.
“It is so gratifying. You have something you can enjoy every day, every time you walk outside. Other people enjoy it. It is timeless.”
Scott is continuing his efforts. He is often seen tending his rock garden next to Sikes Children’s Shoes, and he is planning a walking path through the garden.
He said there is always more to do, but for now he is enjoying seeing the fruits of his labor bloom around his little piece of Homewood.