With 80-degree days and dogwoods blooming, spring has taken Scotland County by storm.
For those feeling a bit left out of the vernal extravaganza, the Laurinburg community garden provides a place, the means, and “plenty of free advice” for anyone who would like to try out their green thumb.
The garden, beginning its fifth year of use, is located at 600 Fairly St. behind Laurinburg Presbyterian Church, which sponsors it. It is about an acre in size, with 67 plots. So far in 2012, 43 people have already leased plots to plant vegetables of all varieties.
“We really have some good people,” said Sam Thompson, who organizes the garden. “We have retirees who tell me that they’ve never enjoyed something this much in their whole lives. It’s a stress reliever for everyone and you get fresh vegetables, too.”
“Our current lifestyles are speeding up so quickly, I think it’s important to invest in an activity where you can slow down a little bit,” added Noran Sanford. “When you think about the benefits of gardening, people can’t deny a good, home-grown tomato, and there are also physical, mental, and I think even spiritual benefits of gardening as well.”
Participation in the community garden also carries with it a community service element, as growers donate 10 percent of their produce to a local charity.
“It’s just a great hobby,” said Kathleen Purcell, who has cultivated a garden plot every year. “I donate my excess to the rape crisis center – that’s a place that really can use it. You feel like you’re eating healthier, and you’re helping people, too.”
For those with little to no experience with convincing plants to grow, the community garden comes with a number of knowledgeable, veteran gardeners.
“I think that it builds up a friendship between the people who are out there- it’s an ideal situation that gets a community going,” said Jones. “It gets you back to the earth, whereas you normally don’t have that chance any place else.”
Gardening can provide occasional stress relief for a busy workaholic, while those with more free time make it a daily ritual.
“If they’re retired they’re out there every day,” said Thompson. “For us that work, I think your average person is out there once or twice a week at this time of year, and then when the produce starts coming in if they’re not out there three times a week they’re probably letting things get too big.”
Due to North Carolina’s temperate climate, growers can keep planting and harvesting year-round.
“I try to get in for four seasons,” said Sanford. “Our climate here is so mild that you can put in a spring garden and follow it quickly with a summer garden, then fall planting is probably the easiest planting, and many things here grow through winter as well.”
Gardeners make the most of their plots, harvesting an abundance of produce to bring any salad lover to their knees.
“Onions, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, potatoes, peppers, green beans, and cucumbers – we use them all at home,” said Philip Jones. “We are quite the salad eaters so the onions, radishes, lettuce, and peppers make great salads.”
“I’ve grown everything from Swiss chard and Asian eggplant - that I definitely did not grow up with - to traditional collard greens and home-grown tomatoes,” Sanford said.
More than 80 families have participated in the garden since its inception. The garden provides nearly everything an aspiring gardener might need – from a watering system to hand tools.
“We provide the drip system, we provide the mulch, a tiller, hand tools, and a wheelbarrow,” Thompson said. “All they need to do is get their own plants and seeds at the various places in Laurinburg – everyone is so helpful at the feed store and other places with advice on what to plant and how to plant it.”
The cost to lease a plot varies from $32 to $46 yearly, with plot sizes ranging from 25 x 20 to 25 x 36.
Nine plots are still available for lease for the 2012 growing year. Those interested should contact Thompson at 280-1114.