gardening

Community Gardens Grow in Fairfield County

One unexpected delight of home-buying here is discovering gorgeous backyard gardens. The Westport Historical Society even sponsors a special “Hidden Gardens” tour (June 9th this year – mark your calendars as they always sell out).

But another type of garden is hidden in plain sight. Community gardens -- town-owned, group-run and wildly popular -- have sprouted all over Fairfield County.

Westport’s Community Garden is one of the largest. Located on Hyde Lane next to Long Lots School, it boasts more than 100 plots on an acre of land. Any Westport resident or town employee can grow vegetables, herbs and flowers there. They all share tools, tips (and bounty).

It’s a community effort involving more than gardeners. The town offers guidance and manpower. Local firms and farms donate machinery, soil and a picnic table. Westport’s pioneering Green Village Initiative helps too. The garden has “grown” to over 100 members.

A few miles north, Lachat Farm provides plots to any Weston resident, employee or local organization. It’s all organic -- chemical pesticides and herbicides are prohibited. Volunteers maintain several plots for the Weston Food Bank; other gardeners help by placing excess produce in a cooler, where it’s delivered to the Food Bank twice a week. Weston Community Garden also hosts workshops throughout the season, and an end-of-harvest potluck dinner (complete with campfire).

Fairfield takes it to a new level.  A community garden in Drew Park has 46 raised beds for residents’ use, while four other gardens have been established solely to provide for those in need. 

·      Grace’s Garden at Our Savior Lutheran Church, managed by Eric Frisk, UCONN Master Gardener, supports the Operation Hope Food Pantry. Eric has partnered with Ability Beyond to provide opportunities for young people with disabilities to participate in gardening activities.

·      St. Timothy’s Garden on the Hill, also managed by Eric Frisk, provides a quiet respite for those looking to tend to the vegetables, most of which are donated to the CT Food Bank.

·      The School Giving Garden at St. Thomas Aquinas provides students with wonderful opportunities for service learning, with an array of programs that have benefited Bridgeport Rescue MissionOperation Hope, and local veterans.

·      Volunteers work the Operation Hope Garden, on the grounds of the First Church of Fairfield, solely to provide fresh produce for the onsite food pantry.

Since 1975, Allen’s Meadow has welcomed Wiltonites. Its 50 plots are lovingly tended by a diverse community: young parents, empty nesters, older couples, best friends, first-timers and experienced gardeners.

Norwalk’s Fodor Farm, the largest of all – offers 225 plots (8’ x 12’) to its residents for a mere $5.  As you can imagine, plots are snatched quickly by many apartment and condo dwellers who grow and share their harvests within their communities. The Norwalk Health Department also host a Growing Gardens, Growing Health Program at the farm, offering gardening instruction, nutrition education, and cooking demonstrations to Norwalk families.

So, this spring — grow for yourself or grow for others, either way get some vitamin D and mood boosting benefits along the way!

Deer resistant but evergreen no longer...

When we read this article, it became all too clear what was happening in our own yards. Some of us admitted to trimming dead branches from our boxwood hedges this fall in the hope that things would look better come spring. Now with spring around the corner and the outlook rather grim, it appears we have another thing to add to our spring to-do list. For those of us that love to wander the fabulous nurseries in Fairfield County, this may be just the excuse we need!

Republished with permission from Redding Gardner, by Sean McNamara.

BYE BYE BOXWOODS

There had been warnings for years about the coming plague, but outside of a couple of isolated plants there had really never been signs of Boxwood Blight here in Fairfield County until this fall.  Then suddenly it was everywhere.  A combination of cool temperatures and wet weather allowed this disease to spread.  The prophecy was being fulfilled.

Concerned homeowners were calling and asking me to look at their boxwood hedge that wasn’t looking well. Looking at sick boxwoods was nothing new. Boxwood Leafminer and Psyllid had been attacking this species for years.  As I wrote in my 2013 blog post, Managing Boxwood Monocultures, for 30 years we have been planting too many boxwoods.  Boxwoods are one of the few deer resistant evergreens.  To stop the threat of deer damage we created the perfect habitat for insects and diseases that feed on this plant species.  The difference is there is no treatment for Boxwood Blight.  Worried homeowners looked to me to fix their sick plants and unfortunately the only remedy was to rip them out and start over.  Thousands of dollars in landscaping was suddenly infected beyond recovery.

The growers knew the damage this disease was capable of.  Stories of boxwood growers burning entire fields were told at trade shows and landscapers were warned to only purchase from reputable suppliers.  Boxwood Blight did not exist in our natural environment and could only enter our landscaping by riding on infected plants from a nursery or garden center.  Stopping the spread of this invisible pathogen proved impossible.

Now that it is here, it will inevitably spread.  The sticky spores will cling to our hands, clothes, pruning shears and lawn mowers.  When the weather conditions are correct, the spores will infect the leaves and stems causing black blotches and defoliation.  After the initial symptoms appear the plants may temporarily recover, only to have the disease emerge again sapping the plants of energy until it ultimately succumbs.

My business is curing plant problems, and usually there is a remedy for most pests and pathogens.  But with this disease the cost may not be worth the cure. Currently the only course of treatment is applications of chlorothalonil every 10 days when the weather is around 60 degrees.  Even then, if the weather conditions are favorable to the fungus you may still get an outbreak.  Spending hundreds or thousands of dollars annually with no guarantee of infection prevention is probably more than most would want to invest.  It explains why growers have resorted to burning thousands of plants in their fields.

For most people, the best advice is to rip out their Boxwoods once they see symptoms and plant something, anything other than boxwood.  And if you’re planning a new landscaping project look for alternative species.  Some varieties of boxwood are less susceptible to the Blight, but none are immune.  Best to use holly, azaleas, rhododendrons or anything other than boxwood.

So say “bye bye” to the boxwood.  They are still here for now, but won’t be for long.  And remember that variety is the spice of life.  When everyone else is planting boxwood, andromeda and spruce because the landscaper says the deer don’t eat them, remember you may trade one problem for a dozen worse ones.