Recent history and its transformation with the help of Mickey Kleinhenz
My relationship with Shepherd Park started with Durham Elementary. I started teaching garden classes there in 2017 and build out the gardens into a food forest and chicken system where the kids could plan and reconnect with nature. Eventually the energy overflowed into the park, and I started planting the first fruit trees with the help of some PTA volunteers in January 2020.
I found purpose and passion in taking ownership of the park and caring for it. Picking up trash, removing the caution tape off the playground, and thinking long and hard about how to enhance the space and the experience for the good of all concerned.
It was in this phase that I learned of the park’s history. It was donated to the city to be preserved as a wooded wild space. It once had two ponds, and my uncles and aunts rode bikes through it, and built forts in the woods. Learning about its past brought clarity to my vision for its future. I do not think it will ever be as wild as it once was, but I think that something very important was lost when the city clear cut the understory in the 1980’s, and removed everything except the trees. Not only were the trees gradually dying from the erosion, compaction, and mowing of their roots, but the forced absence of nature cut out an aspect of our humanity. It disconnected us from the wonder, depth, and mystery that exists in the wild space.
My vision is for it to demonstrate the potential of a public space when individuals in a community take positive ownership. The purpose of the project is to pull people into connection with nature, demonstrate the abundance of the gift economy, and shift the collective perspective about “public” land (putting ownership back in the hands of the individuals in community). I also see it serving as a model for utilizing the abundant waste stream resource of tree chippings to revitalize and nurture public spaces. Over 200 cubic yards of mulch have been spread in the park, both to protect the existing trees from the continual damage of the lawn mowers, and to stop the erosion the maintenance has caused.
Nothing pulls people into connection better than receiving gifts. In the future, the gifts of mulch and careful planting will be returned with abundant fruit. The growing orchard contains figs, apples, pear, elderberry, mulberry, satsuma, kumquat, lemon, loquat, persimmon, plum, pineapple guava, and blueberry.
From humble beginnings it is growing tree by tree into a forest garden, orchard, butterfly garden, arboretum, and much more.
I plant fruit trees, because they are the best teachers of reciprocity and care.
I plant the flowers because they call in the butterflies inspiring awe and wonder.
I feed the worms to care for the trees.
I create the space for creativity, exploration, and play because closeness comes through interaction.
I do things in the park because it feels good to do them.
Mickey Kleinhenz is a native Houstonian. He has a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture and master’s in Landscape Architecture from Louisiana State University. He has worked in landscape management and landscape design, and in 2013 he finished his first permaculture design course.
He documents some of his activities on Instagram at @Shepherd Park Garden and on his website, www.urban-abundance.com, for those that would like to follow him.