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Five-year-old Rafael is one such child. He regularly comes to play in the yard with his four-year-old brother, Irwin, and three-year-old sister, Araleidis. Rafael wants to be a firefighter, but for now is happy to eat fresh tomatoes and peppers in the summer, chase the roosters whose crowing wakes him many mornings, and, indeed, sing to the flowers, on this particular day, "Feliz Navidad."
Sherman Avenue is not a formal garden by any stretch, but what it lacks in primness it makes up in ingenuity: Decorative steel headboards substitute for wrought-iron garden railings, and toppled bookshelves form beds that give each child a three-by-one-foot "shelf" section to plant. Cilantro, nectarine trees, fig saplings, grape vines (concord and green), pear trees, tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes, jalapeños, tulips, and a rose bush surrounded by mint are planted amidst Madonna statues, carousel horses, plastic ducks, and three casitas.
Rodriguez fears if the garden is sold, it will degenerate into a car graveyard or parking lot; her block already has one of each. These days, Rodriguez is focused on the garden's annual Mother's Day party. She has plans for new walkways, flower beds, and play areas for the 50 kids from the Sherman Avenue Day Care Center who come in the summer, and talks about the garden's future as if it were not in peril. In late April, she tells a visitor to come back when more blooms are up.
"We call this the 'Oh my God garden' because that's what everyone says when they come here. Come back in the end of May, and you'll say it, like everyone else." The Sherman Avenue Garden is scheduled for auction on the afternoon of May 13.