When Jim Bartlett last left the Mothers' Garden in Clifton Park on Friday evening, there were two short stone columns standing at the entrance from East 32nd Street, but no longer.
By Saturday morning, when he arrived to prepare for a Mother's Day weekend celebration, one of the columns lay on its side, the apparent victim of an overnight car accident.
The pile of fallen stone made as a good an illustration as any of why Bartlett was there at all, why he has devoted so much time in the past few months to creating an organization devoted exclusively to maintaining this enclave of stone paths, stone gazebo, arbor, footbridge, benches and landscaping that was established in 1926 to honor mothers. Because if it's not a driver knocking over a stone column, it's vandals breaking path stones, or people littering, or trees falling down, or weeds and bushes growing wild and people too busy with other things to do much about it.
"It's supposed to be a place of remembrance," said Bartlett, a neighbor who recently helped to found Friends of Mothers' Garden as a nonprofit organization. "We don't want it to be forgotten."
Hence the gathering Saturday morning and early afternoon at the five-acre patch just north of the golf course in Clifton Park near the intersection of Harford Road and Erdman Avenue.
The three-piece acoustic band Purple Empress played interpretations of tunes by, among others, Dave Matthews, Stevie Wonder and Amy Winehouse as a couple of dozen visitors snacked on hot dogs, beans, lemonade and cake. Elementary school language teacher and writer Katia Ulysse gave a reading likening the garden in its resilience to the iris flower and her native Haiti, and to an elderly mother: "Your limbs may be frail … but you can be beautiful again."
Bartlett's effort to restore the garden is the latest in a series of attempts over the years to keep the place in shape since it was first dedicated under Mayor William F. Broening. The garden was rededicated by Mayor William Donald Schaefer in honor of his mother, Tululu Irene Schaefer, in 1985, then re-rededicated under Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in 1992.
In each case, the city set aside money and volunteers pledged their efforts, but in time volunteers got busy with other things or moved away, and city resources were devoted elsewhere.
"The place is never continually maintained," said Tom Rybczynski, a neighbor who said he attended the dedication ceremony in 1992. He wore a straw boater yesterday for an appropriate 1920s nostalgia look, and was accompanied by his daughter, Emma, and wife, Mary.
"It's good to see young people taking over" the task of caring for the garden, Mary Rybczynski said.
Bartlett hopes this time will be different, not least because there's now an organization devoted specifically to raising money and marshaling volunteers. Friends of Mothers' Garden became a nonprofit last month and now has $6,500 on hand with a grant for another $1,500 expected soon.
"It's our responsibility to keep it up," said Bartlett. He said the city has been helpful since he brought the neglect to the attention of Recreation and Parks officials, but he said the government cannot do the job alone.
He said he hopes the organization can work with students at Lake Montebello Elementary School across Harford Road. He would like to see the garden used as a spot for art exhibits and music performance.
Bartlett started the cleanup effort in August, clearing overgrown brush and fallen trees, repairing stone steps and walking paths. More of such work remains, as Bartlett hopes to replace the sundial that has vanished from its stone base, and the birdbath, which is gone entirely but for one stone disk lying in the grass. Soon volunteers will start planting New Dawn roses to climb the arbor to one day make a canopy of pink blooms.
And, oh yes, someone will have to fix that fallen column.