St. Luke’s Episcopal Church cultivates its garden

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 7, 2009

If you’re going to plant a garden, you should just dig in and not worry overmuch about planning.
At least that’s the wisdom offered by Kathleen Tronsor, the volunteer coordinator of a garden started this spring by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
“We could have messed around for a year and improved the soil, but we just flung everything into the ground ó and it grew,” Tronsor said.
“Talk about instant gratification. I think everything we planted came up.”
The garden is located in the lot next to Ted and Mary Blanton’s law office, just down the street from the church. Owned by the city since the 1980s, the property has been vacant for many years.
“We are starting small and simple with this garden,” Tronsor says. “I really think it’s the way to do it.
“We’ve learned not only how easy it is but also that it isn’t as terrifying as you might think. You just plow it up and plant the seeds and they grow.”
Tronsor’s role, she says, has been coordinating people and “channeling enthusiasms.”
Harvesting ó beans, salad greens, tomatoes, squash, herbs, okra ó is one of the fun parts.
Recently, a group of church members, including plenty of children, got together to collect the vegetables that were ripe.
When the garden first started producing, the vegetables were going to Rowan Helping Ministries. Because the garden does not yield in the large quantities needed by RHM, Andrea Anders, a St. Luke’s member and a volunteer with the Family Crisis Council, suggested that the women’s shelter could use them.
The women who stay in the shelter run by the Family Crisis Council cook their own meals and have appreciated having fresh produce ó as well as bouquets of flowers from the wildflower garden.
The Rev. Whayne Hougland, rector of St Luke’s, is thrilled with the way the garden project has worked out.
“It really started last spring with the conference that Catawba had on faith and the environment,” Hougland said. “A lot of people from church attended. As a result, there was a lot of energy for pursuing issues surrounding the environment.”
That energy led to the idea of starting a community garden, Hougland said
He called Joe Morris at the city planning office to consult with him. He discovered that the land next to the Blanton Law Office ó just down the street from the church ó was owned by the city.
The city agreed to let St. Luke’s plant a garden there.
“The city’s been terrific,” Hougland said.
Mandy Monath says that Ted and Mary Blanton have also been very gracious, “not only tolerating us under their noses but also providing the water for the garden.”
“We are really grateful to them,” Monath says.
Landscape Manager Mark Martin tilled the land for the main garden in April.
Interested church members got together and talked about what to plant in the garden and how to plant it.
They put in tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cucumbers, herbs, peppers and squash.
Later, the lower portion was turned into what members like to call “the wild children’s garden.”
Hougland had bought a bunch of packets of flower seeds, which were mixed together in a big bucket and sown randomly after Tronsor tilled that patch of land.
The flowers are blooming.
“It’s gorgeous,” Tronsor says.
A pumpkin patch is in the works as well.
During this summer’s Vacation Bible School, Judy Newman helped children plant pumpkin seeds in little starter pots. Later, Monath planted them in the garden.
The pumpkins are growing nicely.
“We are excited about that,” Newman says.
There is a spiritual component to the gardening experience as well.
Hougland says that tending a garden helps “get us connected physically to the earth and to the God of all creation through that, and to also come together as a community to work together, grow stuff together, and give it away to those who might need it.”
Hougland says Tronsor has done a great job of managing the process, and Master Gardener Jean Gilooly has also been very helpful.
The church has had a lot of volunteer help with the gardening chores, including students from Catawba College.
“It’s a great way to reach out to the community,” Hougland says.
“It just makes sense with the economy being so tight … it’s a way to bring the community and neighborhoods together for people to produce their own food.
“And it certainly would be a way to develop relationships and friendships while meeting some of the economic and education needs, as well as spiritual needs.”
Newman’s experience backs that up. She was at the garden recently with fellow St. Luke’s members Sue Turner and Tricia Manik, watering and harvesting.
Church members, she says, have developed friendships that probably wouldn’t normally have had a chance to grow otherwise.
“Tricia sings in the choir and I sit in the back of the church,” Newman points out. “We wouldn’t have gotten to know each other if we hadn’t done this.”
Tronsor is thrilled with how the garden has blossomed into such a satisfying project, on all counts.
“When you think about how much open land there is, why should anybody ever be hungry? At least for vegetables in the summer.”
Tronsor says she has a garden herself, though admits that last year’s was abandoned to the baby bunnies, who must have sensed her soft heart and taken it over.
Church members are already looking forward to planting a fall garden, Newman says.
St. Luke’s hopes to make a presentation to the city council to help create a template for other churches and organizations who would like to tackle a similar undertaking.