A Legacy of Healing: Garden's roots were nurtured by grieving mom's sense of fate

Judith Foster spoke at a ceremony on Sunday at the site of a new open space--HERO Hope Garden--on Geneva Avenue. David Mareira photo

After opening at 424 Geneva Ave. last month, the HERO Hope Garden was officially dedicated in a ceremony on Sunday that centered the garden as a community sanctuary space honoring the memory of lost loved ones and completed the vision for the garden as it was originally conceived by Dorchester resident Judith Foster.

After her son Paul was murdered while attending college in North Carolina in 2013, Foster returned to her native Jamaica to seek healing and comfort in the natural beauty of her rural childhood home. While grieving with family there, Foster saw the power of “using nature as a healing conduit.

“Research shows that nature heals,” said Foster. “If you are immersed in the earth, you’re healing yourself...closer proximity with Mother Earth means a more healthy and empathetic you.”

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Judith Foster's son, Paul A. Fyffe, Jr., was shot outside a Charlotte, N.C. nightclub in 2013.

That realization later led her to found H.E.R.O. Nurturing Center, a Boston-based non-profit that organizes individual and group programming centered around healing, including emotional wellbeing workshops and regular nature walks in the Blue Hills.

The HERO Hope Garden helps to fulfill a piece of Foster’s mission by creating a place in the neighborhood that she hopes will serve as a green urban oasis.

“H.E.R.O. stands for Healing, Empathy, Redemption, Oasis,” explained Foster. “This garden is the final part of that process, and hopefully it’s a model for what HERO nurturing can look like in the future.”

Work on the garden initially started with a groundbreaking in 2018, at which Foster met state Sen. Nick Collins and state Rep. Liz Miranda. Foster bonded with Miranda after she shared her own story of healing after losing her brother to gun violence in 2017. Foster recalled how volunteers unearthed a bullet casing at the site while digging garden beds.

“To me, that really stressed the fact that this needed to be a healing place,” she said.

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A group of volunteers assembled at the Geneva Avenue site last year to begin work on the project. Photo courtesy American Forests.

Today, the garden welcomes passersby to explore a “food forest” with fruit trees, plants, and raised bed gardens; a greenhouse for community and educational use; and a community meeting and gathering space with a handful of tables, chairs, and umbrellas.

The focus with the garden was always on sustainability, said Foster, who worked with Speak for the Trees Boston to push for fruit trees and permanent structures over seasonal flower beds. In the years to come, collard greens, strawberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, and other fresh foods grown at the garden will nourish the local community under the stewardship of the Boston Food Forest Coalition and the Mattapan-based Farmers Collaborative. 

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A view of the HERO Hope Garden on Geneva Avenue this summer. The garden welcomes passersby to explore a "food forest" with fruit trees, plants, and raised bed gardens; a greenhouse for community and educational use; and a community meeting and gathering space with a handful of tables, chairs, and umbrellas. City of Boston photo

Foster said Sunday’s ceremony affirmed the work of her nonprofit and demonstrated how much the local Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood— one with a history of trauma from gun violence— embraced the project. 

“It was really special to see this multiracial, multicultural, coordinated community effort all inspired by my tragedy from losing my son, and knowing that this community also suffered trauma before I experienced my own...I needed to make sure that this was a legacy of healing left in the wake of all these tragedies, and during this time of Covid when people really need a healing space to sit, reflect, and breathe, I think it’s that much more important.

“Seeing all the different people that gathered on behalf of the garden gave me hope in the face of hatred, Covid, and all the devastation we’re currently experiencing. The gathering [Sunday] gave me hope that we can have a better future for my granddaughter, and I was proud to know Paul was the catalyst for bringing those people together.”

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