With the latest 2016 Gardens in Bloom Garden Tour sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension featuring the O’Fallon Community Garden as one of the eight tour locations, Sterling Garnto, Garden Club president said the local volunteer based garden continues to be a ‘blooming success.’
“The Bloom Tour was great despite the rain — we had about 150 come visit the Community Garden (at the corner of State and Smiley Streets) last Saturday (June 4), and there was well over 200 who went on the tour of the home gardens,” Garnto said.
Garnto said, among many of the attractions at the nearly two-acre garden, which is about 4,000 square feet, the apiary and butterfly garden were most popular during the tours.
“The whole thing went well, and a lot of people liked the bees and butterflies,” Garnto said.
Curious visitors were able to get the inside scoop from Garnto and Jim Harper, apiary specialist/volunteer.
“People wanted to know how we catch the Monarch butterflies, tag them so we can send them to Kansas City, Mo. for tracking,” Garnto said.
“Others were fascinated about the four swarms in our apiary,” Garnto said.
Loads of questions about the various plants in the butterfly garden like the milkweed, or the name of the Red Twigged Dogwood kept Garnto and the more than 10 volunteers and master gardeners busy to say the least.
“We spent $1,400 on perrenials alone this year, but it’s like an investment because unlike annuals they will return every year on their own,” Garnto said.
Moreover, quite a lot of questions geared towards home gardening ‘how to do’s’ became a common theme.
“People would ask ‘I have fungus that looks like (blank), what should I do?’ So I was very busy with teaching easy at-home techniques and causes of common fungi,”
Garnto was the main tour guide for the O’Fallon Community Garden, giving visitors insights and tidbits about the plants, species, care tips and cautionary advice, while Jim Harper provided lectures with question and answer periods for participants to learn more about the apiary.
Many were very impressed with how much is produced specifically for the O’Fallon Food Pantry, which comes to about about $3,000 annually.
Sterling said this wasn’t the first year the O’Fallon Garden Club and Community Garden experienced buckets of rain.
“It poured all day,” Sterling said.
In 2013, he said it rained so much the plants looked droopy and like they were drowing, plus the potatoes were rotting in the ground.
“The potatoes are a good portion of the poundage of the donations made to the Food Pantry. This year the potatoes, and really everything, is thriving and looking even better and so fresh,” Sterling said.
According to Sterling, 2013 was not the best year with $3,000, but last year was much better with about $3,500 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit donations.
“We expect more this year maybe $3,500 to $4,000 this year — I’m hoping we may even set a record this year,” Sterling said.
The garden provides green onions and spinach, which are nearly done being harvested; beans, beets, cabbage, lettuce, squash, zuccini, potatoes, blackberries and much more.
The Garden Club was created in 2010 with its main project being the Community Garden parcel, which formally was a dilapidated trailer park.
“We’re a volunteer organization dedicated to beautifying the city of O’Fallon and encouraging volunteerism and civic pride. The Community Garden is only four years old, but has donated over 10,000 pounds of fresh veggies to the pantry, and that’s saying a lot,” Sarah Lambaria, previous president, said.
Future sprouts education center
Members look forward to what the future holds, Lambaria said.
“One of our big goals right now is pooling our resources into securing donations and getting the ball rolling on fundraising for our new education center we are adding to the garden next year,” Lambaria revealed.
Carolyn Sitzes said, she can’t wait for the education center because it will allow them to continue adhereing to the club’s mission of educational outreach to the community’s youth, seniors and — well, everyone really.
“Our biggest purpose is education,” Lambaria said.
According to Garnto, he and Harper have visited local schools like Estelle Kampmeyer, Delores Moye Elementary and Amelia Carriel Elementary to teach children about the basics on ‘how to plant,’ and the importance and benefits of an apiary, and how it works.
“But with this education center we will be able to do that on-site at our Community Garden to give more hands on lessons about a variety of subjects to classes, Girl and Boy Scouts of America, and other organizations or residents,” Sitzes said.
The plan is for the facility to be an open air, oval shaped gazebo style covered structure 25-feet by 30-feet. The cost is estimated to fall within the range of about $30-35,000, and will be done in several phases, Lambaria said.
Recent additions include a new shed, herb garden and a grape arbor, the trio explained.
“We also have about nine Eagle (Boy) Scouts of America projects that have been complete here like helping with the apiary, implementing raised garden beds, installing benches and new pathways too,” Lambaria said. “Pretty soon all the areas will be connected by the pathways with the education center being the main focus.”
The O’Fallon Garden Club boasts over 90 members with 23 master gardeners and a master naturalist, and belongs to the National Garden Club, is one of 30 Illinois Garden Clubs. Volunteers meet twice a week to plant, weed, water and enjoy the company of fellow gardeners as they beautify the community, according to the club website.
In addition to the Community Garden, club members also design, plant and tend various gardens around town including the traffic circles, downtown planters and the Veterans' Monument.