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Homewood Cemetery decides to displace garden

Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Maria Felix Cubas of Squirrel Hill, tends to her garden plot at the Homewood Community Gardens in Squirrel Hill on Wednesday, June 12, 2013. There are 94 plots for planting both vegetables and flowers.

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By Adam Brandolph
Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 12:04 a.m.

The barren, snow-covered planters in the Homewood Community Garden will bloom once more.

But after October — when the garden's lease with the Homewood Cemetery runs out — the 100 or so individual garden plots will be gone.

After nearly 40 years, cemetery officials have decided to part ways with the city's oldest and largest community garden to make room for more graves.

“Overall, it's been a great relationship, but the cemetery is moving into that direction as we further develop,” said David Michener, cemetery president.

The 200-acre cemetery, the final resting place for famous Pittsburghers such as industrialists Henry Clay Frick and H.J. Heinz II, is 60- to 70-percent developed but needs to look several years ahead, he said.

The Homewood Community Garden opened about 1977 to the delight of local growers, most of whom didn't have room in their yards for gardens of their own.

“We had two little kids, very little money and we ate what we grew,” said Pat Schuetz, 67, of Regent Square, who had a plot from 1977 to 1985 and 2003 to 2012. “It's a wonderful thing. I'm sorry to hear of this happening, but I'm not astounded.”

Schuetz and other gardeners said the threat of the cemetery taking back its land loomed for years.

“When you paid your fee at the beginning of the season, you'd sign a contract agreeing to maintain your plot and also with the understanding that the cemetery could take the land back in the middle of the season,” Schuetz said.

But inside the garden, growers became friends as they learned how to cultivate the land and warded off everything from tomato blight to hungry deer and rabbits.

“It was wonderful to have that big plot to grow stuff all those years,” said Joni Raboniwitz, 72, of Park Place, who had a plot for more than 30 years.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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