There was no shortage of audience participation in Saturday's community garden event, sponsored by a newly formed women’s group in Wildwood. The “Tuesday Club” is organizing a series of plant-related talks at the new Wildwood Farms community garden, located at the corner of Main Street and Taylor Road in the city's Town Center. These are free, informational meetings.
Saturday was the first presentation in the series, with the speaker being Pat Bellrose, owner of Fahr’s Greenhouse in Wildwood. In addition to his family’s longtime nursery business, Bellrose has a passion for teaching. He has a bachelor's degree from the College of Agriculture at University of Missouri-Columbia, and has taught horticultural courses at East Central College and St. Louis Community College. He has been a presenter at the international symposium on integrated pest management. He also developed a computer model to project the life cycle of white fly, as well as a computer program to track pesticide usage.
Local residents jumped at the chance to get their questions answered by a gardening expert. “Why are my pepper plants turning yellow?” queried one attendee. “Should I remove the side branches on my tomato plants?” asked another.
Organizers of the city’s new community garden hope the speakers' series will be a way for home gardeners to benefit from the community space. “We were pleased with the attendance this first week of our speaker series, considering the heat," said Mary Lou Barnes, a Tuesday Club member.
"It was promising to see that those in attendance were so engaged and enthusiastic. We encourage all residents to attend the upcoming series of speakers. Whether you have a plot in the community garden, a home garden, or maybe just in the planning process. Everyone is welcome!”
Jean Hauser, another member of the Tuesday Club, noted that the community garden's 50 plots are all rented, and more people are on the waiting list. “Our club members are interested in gardening, and we want others in the community to enjoy it as much as we do. We think that both novice and experienced gardeners will find these presentations interesting and educational," she said.
Audience members agreed. “The extent of Pat’s knowledge about plants and gardening is just amazing,” said Eddie Kohn of Wildwood. “I learned a lot from the talk, and he really dispelled some gardening myths that I thought were true.”
Bellrose stressed the importance of watering and said that it's a myth that watering on a hot day can burn the leaves on the plants. "Remember, you’re watering the soil, not the plant,” said Bellrose. He advised watering one inch a week and pointed out that especially in the hot months of June, July and August, that regular watering is essential to gardens.
"If you're using a hose, be sure to put a water breaker on the end to slow the force of the water. Move the breaker slowly over the soil, the slower the better. We use a drip system to water our plants," he said.
Bellrose noted that gardeners should "try to avoid watering late in the day, when water will sit on the foliage until the next day. That creates a perfect situation for plant diseases. But if evening is the only time you can water, by all means do it then. That would be better than skimping on watering,” he said.
Another typical myth involves fertilizer, he said. Many novice gardeners feel that if a little fertilizer is good, more must be better. But according to experts, fertilizing too much but it can be dangerous. It can burn plants, prevent seed germination and contaminate water sources. Bellrose tested the soil at the community garden and based his recommendations on the report. He handed participants a chart with all of the essential elements needed for optimum plant growth, and he noted that some essential nutrients in the soil at the community garden were actually too high. He recommended fertilizing only once for the season based on the report.
The support of Wildwood city representatives and a lot of committed volunteers have turned a vacant lot into a lush garden in less than two months.
"Good timing had everything to do with the creation of this garden, and it was time to do it,'” said Cindy Wright, who is the community garden director. “That's a powerful combination. Of course there are too many people to name and thank. It took every single one of them and their contributions to create 'Wildwood Farms'. It has been a quality effort overall. The positive feedback that I have received from the gardeners is testimony to the fact that it was indeed time for this garden's creation, and I imagine many more in the very near future."
"It's amazing what people can do when they think of ‘community’ as a verb,” Wright said. “I can't wait to see what happens next."
Demonstrating this wonderful sense of community spirit are three neighbors from the Chesterfield Shores subdivision in Wildwood. Rick and Lynn Archeski, along with their neighbor, Kaori Mitchell, are taking a “tag team” approach to their two plots at the new urban garden.
“We decided that we would watch out for each other’s gardens, and then we won’t have to come up so often,” said Lynn Archeski.
“Yes, we can share in the work and the watering and that will make it easier on all of us," said Mitchell. "I have learned so much about gardening from Lynn. She is definitely my mentor! I also learned a lot from today’s talk."
"This was the garden's first educational event. It was free and everyone was invited,” said Wright, who noted that the next lecture at the garden should involve anyone interested in gardening.
The next presentation is about growing vegetables. It will be held at the garden on June 18 from 10 to 11 a.m. Bellrose will return with a lecture called “How to Keep Weeds and Bugs from Taking Over Your Garden.”
There will be a sun canopy for the event, but attendees should be sure to bring bottled water and a lawn chair.