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Gardeners sprout fruits, flowers, and friendships

Created date

June 25th, 2013

The Garden State lives up to its name this month as gardens across the state become lush with greens, reds, pinks, yellows, and purples. To see a fine display of gardens, visit Cedar Crest, the Erickson Living community in Pompton Plains, where residents plant and manage 110, 8- by 8-foot gardens from April to September. You ll find vegetables, flowers, and herbs a colorful collage that the whole community and its visitors enjoy all season long.

A garden without a yard

For David and Naomi Sutter, the ability to garden without the upkeep of a large yard was a huge selling point for Cedar Crest. Although the couple had already decided to move to the community when they discovered the garden club, they didn t waste any time in getting a space. I got in touch with Edith Dombal about the garden spaces, David says, referring to the club s president. I got a space before we moved here, turned it over by hand, and planted it all before we even moved in. Edith says the club and its gardens give people who gardened when they lived in a house a place to plant, show off their talents, and exercise, without the burden of maintaining a large yard. It s just the right size. Compared to what I had at my house, I really love it, she says. I consider the entire garden area as my garden; I just don t have to take care of it all. Ted Thiessen, head groundskeeper at Cedar Crest, and his team lend a helping hand. They clean up the gardens and paths at the start of every season. And last year, they installed a new fence to keep out critters like deer and rabbits.

Flowers to friendships

Aside from providing low-maintenance gardening opportunities, the community gardens provide a place for camaraderie as well. Gardeners enjoy meeting each other, chatting amongst the greenery, and sharing tips. On a beautiful day this spring, seven to eight gardeners spotted the area. Wayne Holling turned over dirt for his all-flowers garden. Natalie Saunders prepped the soil for tomatoes, zucchini, and lettuce. And Carole Garthwaite and her daughter Claire Minarick planted tomatoes. Helen and Fred Soka, who have a garden, just sat and watched, enjoying the spring air, sunshine, and camaraderie. Gardeners also share their goods, from flowers to fruits. While some gardeners grow only flowers, others grow produce like tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and herbs. And some, like Fred and Joan Knapp grow specialty gardens. The Knapps focus on alpine gardening. Since 2008, Ben Longo has wowed his neighbors with mammoth zucchini. His giant squash, measuring 68 inches, earned him the title zucchini man. Another zuke he grew weighed in at a whopping 30 pounds. While most club members are lifelong gardeners, some like those who lived in nearby New York City all their adult lives never had the opportunity to garden and take advantage of it now. Throughout the season, which runs April to September, the club hosts speakers. And many club members sell their plants at the annual Fruits of Our Labor sale, which benefits a campus charity. Finally, in August, the club hosts a brunch with harvested vegetables and champagne. It s a big hit, says Edith.