Photo provided. Some photos captured by Natalie Walsh.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the last year, the community’s beloved Pitney Meadows Community Farm has made a lot of changes.
Since this time last July, the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens have become an official Monarch way station, created a large “Grandparent’s Garden,” started a reading and gardening Saturday program for children, increased the number of plots and now has more than 70 gardeners growing fresh healthy food in their gardens.
“It’s truly amazing. People who visit the gardens can’t believe it is only one year old,” said garden director Natalie Walsh, crediting the community of gardeners that has made the difference.
“They aren’t just tending their plots, but also are interested in learning organic gardening techniques, engaging children in the gardens, and extending a hand to each other and to the Saratoga community at large. It truly is a community in the gardens,” she added.
Last year the Community Gardens had 50 spaces available. This year, there are 72 beds.
“We are working to respond to what the community wants. When gardeners asked for bigger spaces, we offered them,” Walsh said.
Gardeners pay to lease the space for the season and the costs vary according to plot size.
In addition, Walsh added flowerbeds to draw pollinators such as butterflies, bees and beneficial insects. Of particular interest was offering habitat to Monarch butterflies whose populations have been in decline across the United States.
In the community gardens, a large garden was installed and planted with butterfly plants that have different bloom periods and provide nectar throughout the summer and into the fall. The milkweed provides the Monarch caterpillar with its only food source.
Engaging the community is a goal for Walsh, who traveled
over 13,000 miles last winter talkingtocommunitygardeners across the country.
This year, the gardens offer programs for adults as well as children. “We were fortunate to have two community gardeners interested in working with children. One is Faye Mihuta, a reading teacher, and the other is Jess Clauser, an artist. Together they designed a reading program that meets once a week and is followed by an art or garden project,” Walsh said.
The reading program is free. The art or garden project costs $5 per child and includes activities including learning how to make jam, making art and learning how to plant and care for seeds. The program, which is held every Saturday morning starting at 9:30 a.m., has been very well-received as have the adult programs on topics such as growing tomatoes.
Also on Saturday mornings, Walsh will lead a gardening class for participants to walk around the gardens and discuss any issues, problems and receive tips from Walsh, who is a master gardener and holds a horticulture degree from SUNY Cobleskill.
The garden also saw the construction of a beautiful cedar pergola that was donated in memory of the late Charlotte Justin by her family and built by local craftsman Rich Torkelson and his son Arik.
The grandmother’s gardens were funded with a grant from the Soroptimists and multiple private donors who also purchased furniture for the space. In addition, the popular sunflower house has also been expanded. A sunflower house is an enclosed space that has “walls” of sunflowers.
Other organizations include the Waldorf school that illustrated signs for the butterfly garden, Saratoga Bridges who care for their own plot and help water others, Franklin Community Center, the Saratoga Senior Center, Saratoga Transitional Services, Saratoga Catholic Central, the Girl Scouts and the high school.
That will also be the day the sunflowers in the annual sunflower contest will be measured for height and size of bloom. The biggest in each category will receive a prize. Last year, 26 people entered, this year there are 60 participants.
“There no doubt the garden is growing,” she added. “If you haven’t visited, come by on a Thursday or Saturday morning and I’ll show you around and tell you what we have planned for next year,” Walsh said.
For more information visit the website: www.pitneymeadows communityfarm.org.