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Is it Memorial Day yet?

Gardeners can’t wait to get their hands dirty

Created date

April 23rd, 2014
Carole Garthwaite (left) and her daughter plant tomatoes in Carole’s Cedar Crest garden patch.
Carole Garthwaite (left) and her daughter plant to

After such a long winter, gardening season can’t come soon enough. But while Mother’s Day usually marks safe planting time, Master Gardener and Crest garden club president Edith Domball says, “After this winter, we may want to wait until Memorial Day to plant things like tomatoes, just to be safe.”

To tame anticipation until then, the club will take a bus trip to Leonard J. Buck Garden, Far Hills, N.J., on May 16. One of the premier rock gardens in the eastern United States, it has been around since the 1930s. It consists of a series of alpine and woodland gardens situated in a 33-acre wooded stream valley. 

“Last year, we took our first trip. Everyone who went really enjoyed it,” Edith says. The community’s shuttle service took 18 garden club members to Watnong Gardens. Forbes magazine described the private, two-acre “parklet” in Parsippany, N.J., as one of “the most beautiful gardens in America” in 2001. It’s just 20 minutes from Cedar Crest, which is located in Pompton Plains. 

Edith has managed Cedar Crest’s 110 garden patches and its 80 to 85 gardeners for the past four years. This will mark her fifth season. “I love it,” she says.

Gardening great for body and mind

No wonder. Studies show that gardening can ease stress, keep you limber, and improve your mood. In fact, a recent study in the Netherlands shows that gardening has better stress-fighting qualities than other relaxing leisure activities. 

Though gardening doesn’t compare to running a mile, taking a Zumba class, or lifting weights, it does get your blood flowing and your muscles moving. It requires strength and stretching and is an excellent form of low-impact exercise.

And if that isn’t enough, some research suggests that gardening—as a combination of physical and mental activity—can improve brain health and lower a person’s risk of developing dementia. 

Colorful variety

At Cedar Crest, gardening styles range from perennials to annuals, alpine plants to vegetables. One gentleman has even nurtured two fig trees, which produced fresh, plump fruit for the first time last year. “I hope the trees made it through the winter,” Edith says. “The fruit was so delicious.”

Dave Sutter and his wife Naomi, active members of the garden club, plant flora of all varieties, including big, colorful tubers like dahlias.

“I never grew dahlias until I moved here,” Dave says. “We lived for 60 years in Cliffton, N.J., where I grew roses, lilies, tomatoes, lots of other flowers, but no dahlias.”

Now, he’s the dahlia expert on campus, planting the rot-prone tubers in raised beds to promote drainage and placing a tomato cage around them to prevent the heavy flowers from collapsing the stalks. 

“Nothing is prettier than a dahlia,” says Dave, who also grows tomatoes—Brandy Boys to be exact. He says the Burpee brand hybrid combines the flavorful qualities of the Brandywine heritage variety with the productive and disease-resistant qualities of the Big Boy variety.

“Here I grow 12 plants, and I have so many that I can’t give them all away to my neighbors,” he says of the productive plant. 

Whether he’s growing dinnerplate dahlias or tasty tomatoes, Dave does it for many reasons. “Gardening is a wonderful experience, good exercise, it tastes good, and the flowers are beautiful,” he says. “Being able to garden here at Cedar Crest is retaining something of your old home, which is really special.”

Always changing, always growing

Most club members are lifelong gardeners, having moved from a house where they tended a large garden. For Edith and many members, the smaller space helps limit maintenance without hindering enjoyment and production. “It’s just the right size. Compared to what I had at my house, I really love it,” Edith says. “I consider the entire garden area as my garden; I just don’t have to take care of it all.”

In fact, she uses unclaimed garden squares as “display gardens.” One is home to several varieties of lilies, another to blooming irises. “All perennials with a few annuals for effect,” Edith says. She adds that she wants to plant one with fragrants this year, agastache and lavender. 

Edith, like many of her neighbors—garden club members or not—has a patio where she grows plants like morning glory, a climbing flower best kept contained for its penchant to spread. 

Throughout the season, which runs April to September, the club hosts speakers, including club members Fred and Joan Knapp, who discuss topics like alpine gardening, perennials, and butterflies. And many club members sell their plants at the annual Fruits of Our Labor sale, which benefits a campus charity.


Apartment living, garden included

You don’t have to give up gardening at Cedar Crest:

•110 complimentary 8- by 8-foot gardens

•On-site tool shed and hose stations

•Pre-season prep


Five great reasons to garden

1. Stress relief

2. Low-impact exercise

3. Improved brain health

4. Fresh, healthy food at your fingertips

5. Camaraderie (with friends and/or wildlife)