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Convent Garden: An Oasis In Harlem Where New York Meets 'Miami'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - What was once an abandoned lot is now a lush garden, thanks in large part to one woman.

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In 1985, a gas station in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Harlem was demolished. The remaining empty lot began to fill with trash, deteriorating into an eyesore. Local activist Luana Robinson petitioned to convert the space—which was owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation—into a community park. But the site fell into further disrepair upon the removal of underground gas tanks in 1998. It was then that Juliette "Miami" Davis, a Florida transplant living across the street, decided to take action.

"There were kids out there playing, and I said, 'Come on. Let's go and clean this place up," Davis said.

What began as a cleanup snowballed into a volunteer planting project, with Davis at the helm. More than two decades later, it's a garden abundant in rosebushes and evergreens.

Convent Garden
Roses in Convent Garden (credit: CBS2)

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"The word that's used most to describe this place is an oasis," she said.

With little previous gardening experience, Davis learned by getting her hands dirty. Planting became a source of excitement.

"Gardening is a never-ending story," she said. "I love coming to see what popped open today."

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For locals, the value of the space extends beyond aesthetics. It's also a gathering place for graduation parties, weddings, and barbecues.

Gazebo in Convent Garden
Gazebo in Convent Garden (credit: CBS2)

"Convent Garden is the centerpiece of the neighborhood," Davis said.

As Davis sits on a bench overseeing her domain, passersby stop to greet her with a hug.

"I guess I'm like a chamber of commerce," she said.

She refers to her view of the street as her wide-screen TV.

"I sit by, and I see everybody and everything," she said.

Diagnosed in 1988 with congestive heart failure, Davis was given an expected two to five years to live. Thirty-one years later, you'll still find her in the garden.

Caring for her plants gives her meaningful purpose.

"I feel that I was chosen to do this," she said. "Every day that I wake up is a reward."

Convent Garden
W 151st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10031

What's something few people know about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.

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