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SMC wields green thumb

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, September 15, 2005

If one were to wander behind the Saint Mary’s Angela Athletic Facility and its parking lot, a small sample of the College “uniqueness” can be seen – a large garden, filled with pumpkins, tomatoes, sunflowers, even tall stalks of corn, waving in the breeze.

The garden belongs to the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and individual plots are given to employees and retirees of the Holy Cross Services Corporation, the organization that manages the properties of the Sister, on a first-come, first-serve basis. Judith Johns, CEO of the Holy Cross Services, describes the provided plots as “a courtesy.”

“It gives them [employees and retirees] a place to get back to the earth,” Johns said.

Johns also said many of the gardeners have no place in their own yard, so this gives them the opportunity to grow whatever they desire.

The plots have become a tradition, beginning more than 20 years ago. Each season begins in the spring, when Tom Stimson, grounds manager for the Holy Cross Services, and his grounds men clean the garden, pull weeds and mow. They also till the ground so that the returning gardeners have a clean slate.

Stimson emphasized the fact that in the process of cleaning, they do not use chemicals or pesticides.

“Many of the gardeners like to grow organically,” he explained, “so we leave it clean, with only the compost from the old plants in the earth.”

It is then up to the approximately 33 returning gardeners to decide what to plant in their 30 by 50 foot plots. Stimson, for example, has a lot of hot peppers and tomatoes in his plot. Carrie Call, director of the Office for Civil and Social Engagement, likes to plant flowers.

“My yard at home is shady,” she said. “So this gives me the opportunity to plant sun-loving flowers, like zinnias, sunflowers, and cosmos.”

Not only does an individual garden plot provide a beautiful flower arrangement and a daily serving of vegetables, but it also allows the gardeners to, “get enjoyment that comes with working with the earth,” says Johns.

“People enjoy it,” says Stimson, “It gives them something to do. Some people come out every year.”

Call said she likes the calm gardening brings.

“Working in it [the garden] is like a retreat. You’re out there all alone, it’s quiet, meditative. It’s awesome.”

Like any other garden, however, the Saint Mary’s garden does not come pest free. Stimson says the garden is frequently visited by deer, ground hogs and coyote. Although nothing specific is done to keep the animals away, Stimson says the gardeners plant extra vegetables, and sometimes grow things that the animals won’t eat like hot peppers.

At one point, a scarecrow was erected. It did not quite work on the deer, since “they’re used to seeing people,” conceded Stimson.