By Ellen Barcel
Tucked among the quaint shops on East Main Street in Port Jefferson is an urban oasis.
A community garden came to Port Jefferson this past growing season. The new garden is located in front of the 1812 Captain Thomas Bayles House, right next to the Port Jefferson Free Library on East Main Street. The former home of the Scented Cottage Garden gift shop, the historic building was sold to the library last year. Erin Schaarschmidt, head of teen services for the library, said “there are no plans just yet” for the future of the building, and “public input is needed” with suggestions for its future use, but the front lawn of the property was quickly put to use.
The idea for the community garden came from Anthony Bliss, youth services librarian. Bliss, who works with children and teens, wanted something that the younger children could do. “And teen volunteers are always clamoring for community service,” said Schaarschmidt. “The teens started the seeds in the teen center in spring [which is across the street from the main building]. Then the children came with their families to plant [the seedlings]… the teens have been weeding it to keep up with it.” Even when school started, teens have been coming in the afternoons after school. Commenting on the dedication of the teen volunteers, Schaarschmidt noted, “The teen volunteers even came when it was 90 degrees or more and in the rain. It really was a labor of love.”
The garden featured several types of tomatoes and peppers in raised beds. Welcome Inn, a soup kitchen in Port Jefferson, was the recipient of the bounty. But vegetables were not the only plants raised in the community garden. Lots of annuals including sunflowers, impatiens, zinnia and salvia, many in colorful planters decorated by a local Girl Scout group, filled the garden, as well as herbs such as basil and mint. There was even an aquatic garden with water hyacinths and a fountain. Painted rocks placed carefully along the beds completed the picture.
The brightly colored birdhouses that adorn some of the larger perennials in the garden, such as the beautiful hydrangeas, are embossed with the letters PJFL. But what is more unique about them is that they were made using a three-dimensional printer that the library owns. A 3D printer makes objects from a digital file. So instead of printing out a photo of a birdhouse, the 3D printer produces the birdhouse itself. Using PLA, a type of biodegradable plastic, the teens created the colorful additions. The library owns the printer, but currently it is used only for special programs. “It takes one to two hours to print each thing,” said Schaarschmidt, so the process is time consuming, but “in the future [the public] will be able to use it.” She noted that the library is working out details, including the cost.
Now that autumn is just about here, plans include putting in a fall display of mums and corn stalks. Noted Schaarschmidt, “The Friends of the Library will be having a small sale of pumpkins to raise money for the library on Oct. 22.” She added, kids will be able to have their photos taken. “It will be a family event.” Check the library’s website, www.portjefflibrary.org, for specifics, or call 631-473-0022 closer to the date.
Community gardens have so many benefits: produce for those who can’t afford it, service for local volunteers and, of course, the beauty of the plants themselves. They increase local property values and they cut down on the distance food must travel, helping to control pollution, to name just a few. For further information on community gardens, especially if you are interested in starting, or taking part in one, can be found at the American Community Gardening Association website: www.communitygarden.org.
Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.