Patrick O’Neil was looking to rent a community garden plot when he stumbled across a project that has consumed most of his summer.

O’Neil learned of the Children’s Memorial Garden when he visited Bozeman Parks and Recreation to ask about a garden plot. None were available, but an employee suggested he check out another spot in need of care.

The memorial garden was built in 2002 in Westlake Park by the Compassionate Friends of Bozeman. It’s meant to honor and remember children who passed away in the Bozeman area. A plaque in the garden lists their names.

The local group disbanded and the garden was left unmaintained. Weeds have infiltrated the garden beds and the walkway throughout is covered in debris.

O’Neil has lived near the park for five years and said he didn’t even know the memorial garden existed. He said it had become so overgrown with weeds that he couldn’t see the plaque stating its purpose.

Mitch Overton, director of parks and recreation, said his department does not have the staff or resources to manage the park. When O’Neil heard that no one was doing the upkeep, he knew he had to help.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ve heard enough, consider it done. I’ll take care of it,’” O’Neil said.

O’Neil said he has spent hours working in the garden almost every day since. Overton said the parks department would do its best to help by providing water and disposing of debris.

The garden isn’t large, but is filled with vegetation. O’Neil said the weeds are too thick for weed trimmers, so he’s been using his hands. Having a hard time with plant identification, he went looking for help.

Zelpha Boyd has been caring for the garden at Gallatin Rest Home for about a decade. She’s part of the Gallatin Empire Garden Club and said she’s had a green thumb her whole life. O’Neil met Boyd by chance, and asked her questions about gardening.

The two formed a partnership.

Boyd has since been spending a few days every week helping with O’Neil’s revitalization effort.

“I got really involved because it’s such a worthwhile cause,” Boyd said.

O’Neil said he hopes the project becomes more collaborative. He’s gotten help from Boyd and a neighbor who provided sunflower seeds. He said he hopes to get more volunteers and support.

For now, O’Neil and Boyd will continue chipping away at the project. Their hard work is beginning to show.

“Between the two of us, we’re making good progress. We’re about three-quarters of the way through,” O’Neil said.

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