It usually takes something like fifteen minutes for me to walk to the Hyde Park Shopping Center from Harper Memorial Library. That walk usually culminates in me buying and eating things from Treasure Island without having to think too much about the other people involved in the whole process.
Even on this particular walk, which was special because I was going to the Hyde Park Garden Fair, I wasn’t expecting anything that I’d think about much, except maybe something about the ongoing destruction by the impatiens. Some of the most popular flowers at the garden fair are under attack by impatiens downy mildew, a type of fungus that causes plants to drop their flowers and leaves. Its spores can hang out in the soil for almost a decade. But that wasn’t all there was to the garden fair. Its roots are deep, and I was really just barely visiting.
The Hyde Park Garden Fair started fifty-four years ago. The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, a volunteer-based organization which runs the fair, is ten years older. The fair is still driven entirely by community volunteers, who give most of the profits back to the HPKCC’s community-building projects. It doesn’t just magically appear outside of Treasure Island for two days a year, either. Volunteers go to greenhouses from Indiana to Wisconsin, “pulling” the plants that they want. Plants have to be chosen according to Hyde Park’s conditions (frustratingly shady) and the code of aesthetic appeal (colorful flowers, mostly).
Before talking to fair volunteers, it was difficult to understand why exactly the fair was happening, as if it existed in a separate space instead of playing a role in my own experience of the Hyde Park community. But then I started to notice who else was looking at the plants. Many–although not all–were middle-aged or older, and none were people I recognized. There was almost no one who seemed to have happened upon the fair by accident. Everyone was taking their time, even if they had already found something to buy. People were there to stop and smell the roses, and seeing that made me understand a bit more clearly what the Hyde Park community actually is.