One would have never known there was a garden on the side of Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station. Vines had strangled the fence that bordered the road, and to anyone without some local knowledge practically anything could be behind those rusting chain links.
Now, those driving past see something completely different — a full garden with planting boxes, a greenhouse and a large sign reading “Community Garden.”
Over the course of Oct. 5, close to 20 community leaders, volunteers and young people looking for high school service hours hacked at weeds, shrubs and vines, quickly bringing the place back to a presentable standard.
The garden property is owned by the Comsewogue School District, and for years had been operated by the Comsewogue Youth Center, according to district officials, but the crew suddenly ceased operations nearly a decade ago. Since then vines overtook the fence, and the site faded from many locals’ memories. While the grass was maintained by the district, the rest of the site was left to its own devices.
“The lady who took care of it eventually moved, and after that it fell to squalor,” said Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.
As the volunteers moved in, many were surprised by just how well the property had survived after years of neglect. Only a few wooden pieces had to be replaced, such as needing new 2-by-4 lumber for the wooden benches and for a few new planters, along with new Plexiglas for the greenhouse door. Otherwise the civic leaders were pleasantly surprised.
“The bones of this is in relatively good shape,” said Charlie McAteer, civic corresponding secretary. “Maybe it needs some paint, maybe it needs a touch up.”
In just a few hours, a mountainous pile of plant debris had already formed by the gate onto the property.
Local landscaper Kevin Halpin, of Halpin Landscaping, said he was contacted via Facebook by civic vice president, Ed Garboski. The day before the cleanup, Halpin came in with appropriate equipment, and did much of the heavy lifting along with cutting the grass. He said he will come back on request to help with whatever needs doing.
The area, he said, needs that extra effort and TLC.
A number of high schoolers from the area also showed up to lend a hand.
Comsewogue students Sarah Thomas and Briana Rodriguez laughed and joked around as they plied a bundle of rough vines apart.
“It was a huge mess, there were vines everywhere,” Thomas said. “It’s definitely a lot cleaner without all the vines and stuff. I think a lot more kids might come here.”
Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) arrived midday Saturday and immediately started picking up litter from the side of the road in front of the garden gate. She said cleanups like this are good ways for community members to make a difference in an immediate and tangible way.
“They’re usually very effective ways of getting people involved,” she said.
Pitti said he is looking to work with the school district to see if other students looking to get service hours in the future could work in the community garden.
“As much as the kids get into it, they’re welcome to come,” the civic president said.
The civic leaders are looking forward to next spring, where they will start planting vegetables and flowers, hoping that they maintain a staunch group of locals to tend the garden. Once the garden starts growing, they plan to donate the food to neighboring St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church for its food pantry, and if they grow even more, they will share with other churches in the area.