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Newbies, skilled growers discover Perry Hall's new community garden

By David Sturm, dsturm@tribune.co

6:20 AM EDT, June 26, 2013

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A significant amount of cross pollination goes on at the new Perry Hall community garden, and it's not limited to the plants.

Gardeners sharing tips are part of the growth process at the plot tucked behind the Rosedale Federal Savings & Loan Association building at 9616 Belair Road, at the intersection with Baker Lane.

One of the gardeners, Anne Hanson, said she could use the help.

"I have zero gardening experience. I have a black thumb," she said with a laugh.

But with the aid of some guidance from fellow growers, she's cultivating a patch of tomatoes and basil, which will go into sauces and pesto. A fan of spicy food, she's also trying her hand growing habanero and purira peppers.

She said she's now been bitten by the gardening bug.

"I would do it again next year. It took a lot of prep work this time because it's a new garden. There was a lot of picking out rocks and tilling. I didn't know how much sheer physical work was involved," Hanson said. "I think next year I might get a tiller."

For both newbie and hardcore growers, word has gotten out that land is available to cultivate in Perry Hall.

Most of the 21 plots, each 10 feet by 10 feet, have been claimed since the garden was laid out in April, according to Mark Patro, a Perry Hall activist and blogger, who has been instrumental in launching the garden. He said he might be able to accommodate a latecomer or two. He wants to see them all taken — it keeps the weeding down.

For Patro, the community garden is a project that will pay off more and more as years go by.

"It will take a couple years to get the soil in optimum condition," he said.

However, he has high hopes for the tomatoes, zucchini and peppers growing in his plot, which he treated with copious organic compost.

The seeds of the community garden were planted about a year ago when Patro used his blog to stir up interest in a community garden in the area. That resulted in a meeting last fall attended by about eight people. At a follow-up meeting in March, 20 soil searchers turned out, he said.

The question of where to put a garden was solved by Rosedale Federal, which had unused land on its tract where both its main and a branch office are located.

Nancy Alperstein, vice president and marketing director for Rosedale Federal, said the firm's CEO, Tom Wintz, wanted to see a community use on the property. Meanwhile, on a trip to California, Alperstein chanced to see the Santa Monica Civic Garden, an urban oasis filled with avid local gardeners.

She brought the idea of putting a community garden next to the bank back to Wintz, who agreed.

"We wanted to provide a venue where people could come together," Alperstein said.

Then Alperstein raised the issue with County Councilman David Marks, who had already been in touch with Patro on the subject of starting up a community garden. It was a green destiny.

"All the stars were aligned," Alperstein said.

"It was perfect timing. It was win-win for everyone involved," Marks said. "My job as a councilman is helping things happen, and often that is without government money."

In fact, no county money supports the garden. It has friends though, including the bank, which provides water for irrigation and a meeting room, and Chapel Hills Farm and Nursery, which donated mulch.

Patro said plans are to keep the garden self-regulating. The fee to claim a plot for the season is $10. A list of rules were drawn up — no illegal plants, no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides, no wasting water.

The soil was tested for lead content at the University of Delaware and the level was found to be the normal result of precipitation, Patro said.

One gardener, Nicole Beus, can be found at her plot about three times a week. She has a home garden, too, and even teaches others how to garden.

The soil at her plot is rife with tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green and red peppers, lettuce, peas, and beans.

Isn't that a lot on 100 square feet?

"Symbiotic vegetables can be close together," she said. "Cucumbers and squash help the tomatoes. It works out."

For her, as with other tillers of the community earth, it's about more than just the vegetables.

"It's great when someone else is also there. It's people at all different levels. There are first-time gardeners and others who have been gardening for 20 years," Beus said.

Alperstein, who can see the entire garden from her office window in the bank, said it's rewarding to see that the garden is as much about people as tomatoes and beans.

"We wanted to provide this venue where people can come together," she said. "I see moms come with their children. It's an opportunity for quality family time."

Patro said he's been fascinated with growing things since about age 10. He's already looking forward to making his own salsa this summer from his tomato harvest.

As Patro puts it, "there's no substitute for homegrown tomatoes."