Not so friendly

An bicycle wheel accent leans against the wall in Friendship Alley in Columbus, Ind., Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Members of the Let’s Grow Garden Club used old bicycle wheels to decorate the flower beds in the alleyway. Most of the bicycles wheels were donated by The Bicycle Station in Columbus. Mike Wolanin | The Republic Mike Wolanin | The Republic

A colorful and whimsical garden tucked away on a path called Friendship Alley was torn apart by vandals just before members of a local garden club had hoped to showcase its beauty to visitors attending Exhibit Columbus.

Members of the Let’s Grow Garden Club began calling each other early Monday morning after being notified by staff at Fresh Take Kitchen, which is located off the alley between Fourth and Fifth streets, that the vandalism had occurred overnight.

Plants from four flower beds were uprooted and strewn about the red brick pavers, and potting soil was scattered over the alleyway. At least one of the decorative bike wheels strategically placed in the beds was missing.

Kim Pence, Columbus, a member of the garden club who went to Friendship Alley to assess the situation, said the club has experienced a few minor thefts from the alley, such as a Christmas ornament taken from decorations during the Christmas season, but “nothing like this.”

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“It was just kind of sad,” Pence said of the vandalism. “Everyone who came by, community members and visitors, would comment on how beautiful the alley is and how much they appreciated the work that went into it.”

The Let’s Grow Garden Club has 28 members, who take turns on assigned weeks planting, watering, weeding and caring for the flower beds along the alley. The members gratefully use water from Dell Bros. clothing store downtown to keep the area blooming, Pence said.

Friendship Alley, which is also referred to as Friendship Way, is an extension of the city’s downtown Streetscape project that began more than 10 years ago to improve downtown Columbus.

The alley has brick pavers and a neon sculpture, which was a gift from the community of Miyoshi, Japan, a Columbus sister city. The club took over the alley’s landscaping and flower beds in 2016 when the club made beautifying the space a personal project, club members said.

After learning of the vandalism, Pence, with the help of fellow club member Arlene Truex, worked to restore the damaged flower beds to as close as original as they could.

Out of the 10 flower beds the club maintains, four were seriously vandalized, Pence said. After the club notified the Columbus Police Department, city Department of Public Works employees went out to sweep up the damaged plants and potting soil and by 9:30 a.m. Monday, Pence and Truex had a clean slate to begin work.

Most of the plants that were destroyed were annuals, and Pence went out to buy replacements at Whipker’s, which cost about $55 — a discount since Columbus is at the end of the growing season and most everything is half off, she said. The plants would have been well over $100 at full price, she said. Some of the plants were able to be salvaged, with a little trimming and sprucing up.

Pence and Truex used dark purple coleus, caladium, coppertop coleus, orange geranium and lantana for the replacement beds.

Club members were particularly concerned about making the alley beautiful and welcoming for visitors who are arriving for the opening of Exhibit Columbus on Friday.

“We wanted it to look good for this weekend,” Pence said of the club’s work throughout the summer.

“The comments people would make about the beautiful plants — everyone oohing and ahhing — then to get that call, it was just devastating,” Truex said.

After working most of Monday morning to replant the beds, the two women said they hope they have restored some of the beauty that was there before the vandalism.

One of the luckier aspects of planting late in the season is that the annuals that were purchased seem to be as mature as the plants being replaced, so the appearance looks similar, Truex said.

Club members had placed brightly-painted bicycle wheels, in purple, lime green and orange, in the flower beds, and believe one of the lime green wheels is missing, and perhaps another is gone, too. Each bicycle wheel was on a pole placed randomly in the flower beds.

Bicycle Station donated the bicycle rims that were painted by a club member and attached to posts in the flowerbeds last year.

Club members are hoping that the downtown Columbus Police Department security cameras may provide clues as to who did the vandalism and when it happened.

“This just seems so senseless,” Truex said. “Hopefully, people will again see its beauty. We wanted so much for it to be nice for the weekend.”

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To learn more about Friendship Alley, visit

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Community residents interested in helping the club should contact club treasurer Tammy Freeland at [email protected].