A New Accessible Garden in Shelburne

Evolution of a garden idea, by Kit Anderson

The inspiration for this garden was a long-ago visit to Wisley Gardens in England. One section had state-of-the-art demonstration gardens designed to be accessible to those who could not garden at ground level, including those in wheel chairs. But they weren’t just practical–they
were planned to be beautiful and engaging for everyone.

Given our aging population, and a growing awareness that we often neglect those with physical limitations, it seemed to me it was time to create opportunities for inclusive gardening, preferably in a public place. How to do that without the funding available to the Royal
Horticultural Society?

Another inspiration was the work of Gardens for All, the Vermont non-profit I worked for that later became the National Gardening Association. In the early days, especially, we documented and wrote about how community gardening fostered people working as equals across class, economic, political and racial lines, and how such gardens made urban neighborhoods safer. I imagined a complex of raised beds, full of gardeners and visitors of all ages, with workshops, demonstrations and lots of laughter.

OK, a bit ambitious. But the vision was there as I began to talk to others. Amazingly, enough people signed on to make a start in a very short time. Our pilot project got approved, funded, built and planted between January and June. We had five gardeners this first year; two of them
could not have gardened otherwise; one volunteered to take care of the food shelf plot. We don’t know yet what will happen next year.
The process expanded my notions of community—it isn’t just about the gardeners, it’s everyone who listens, offers ideas, contributes time and energy, gives needed materials, shows up for a gathering, makes food for celebrations. It’s the people who stop by to ask what’s going
on, the children who climb on newly constructed beds wondering what they are, and who return to identify what’s growing. It includes those who enjoy our harvests brought to the food shelf in Shelburne.

Here’s a brief list of those who form part of this larger community:
VGN: Michelle was there from the beginning, offering encouragement, ideas and support of all kinds. Without that, we would still be getting started.
Steering committee: A few hardy and busy souls agreed to help out and attended numerous planning meetings. Each made connections with others. For example, Marleen Moore set up meetings with Michelle and encouraged the food shelf plot. She also wrote our grant proposal
Shelburne Craft School: When Michelle learned that Heather Moore, Director of the school, was planning a course to build raised beds through their Building Projects Fund, she brought us together. That brought in Manny, who designed what we wanted—a garden that we
could be in, not just look at, and then built it with his students.

SCHIP: We needed funding for soil—it takes a lot of soil to fill raised beds—and a few other items, and SCHIP approved our application just in time for planting! There is something so satisfying in knowing that when we give clothes to the store for resale, the money comes back
into the community to keep the circle going.
Shelburne Parks and Rec: We wanted a public place for the garden, to encourage more social interaction, and chose Davis Park, a protected spot next to the playground and near the gazebo.  Betsy Cieplicki, director of all programs, had no funding to offer us, especially on such short notice, but nevertheless she and the whole committee trusted us to go ahead. They gave us access to water and a light-weight hose.
Public officials: Kate Lalley, when she was on the Selectboard, was excited about the idea from the first and continued to encourage the project after she went to the state legislature. Mike Ashooh, chair of our Selectboard, responded immediately to an FPF announcement and offered support.
Volunteers: Helen Oetjen, one of the gardeners who also joined the steering committee, found volunteers from Vermont Federal Credit Union, who showed up to fill the first bed with soil. She also brought in Sarra Talib a graduate student in Food Systems at UVM, who offered to take care of the food shelf plot and delivered produce bi-weekly. Other volunteers included a member of Scout troop 602, Shelburne Lions Club, and neighbor in Davis Park.
Donations: We asked for donations of tools on FPF and people were generous. One day Steven Wisbaum of Champlain Valley Compost arrived and gave us several yards of compost—which was in short supply this season.
Charlie Nardozzi: Vermont’s Gardening Guru was a colleague of mine back at Gardens for All. When I asked if he’d help us celebrate the opening of the garden, he agreed immediately to fit us into his busy schedule—and gave excellent advice about raised bed gardens.
All of us involved in the project are incredibly thankful for everyone who contributed to building this larger community. Let’s make sure it keeps growing in the coming years.

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