Pollinator plants line the large exterior area of the garden area at Troy Howard Middle School. Courtesy of Belfast Garden Club

BELFAST — The community garden space at Wales Park will be on display Friday, Aug. 27, along with the working gardens at Troy Howard Middle School and BCOPE, a community-based alternative education program. All three gardens will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as part of Belfast Garden Club’s Open Garden Day. The gardens are within a 5-minute drive of each other, at 10 Lincolnville Avenue, 173 Lincolnville Avenue, and 19 Merriam Road, and a $5 donation admits visitors to all three. Additional donations to support the Garden Club are welcome. 

This is the first full season since the community garden at Wales Park began, having been given approval by the city in June of 2020. Aleta McKeage, a conservation biologist with the Waldo County Soil and Water Conservation District who specializes in planning and care of gardens, worked with the Belfast Garden Club to design a community space that was accessible and could be used to teach people how to garden. Plots are available for anyone who may not have the space to have a garden where they live. After the soil was tested to be sure there were no contaminates, many community partners donated time and materials to help the garden take shape. On one end of the long rectangular communal garden space, White Cap Builders erected a Victorian cedar shingled shed. McKeage said they also donated a rustic fence and installed water lines to the garden.

Pollinator plants such as cosmos and sunflowers wrap the outside of the garden, each with its own identifying sign, while a lottery system assigns all 11 plots to neighbors interested in growing vegetables. A large apple tree screens the garden from the road along with several pollinator shrubs. In the garden this summer, several tomato varieties, squash, onions, peas, and nasturtiums can be found. The fee for a plot this year is on a sliding scale from $20 to $40 based on self determined ability to pay. There is one plot used for demonstrations and two table-height beds available for people who find it easier to garden without bending over. Nat Clifford, a volunteer, built the raised beds. Plot members are asked to volunteer to maintain the communal space, he said, and tend to learn from talking with other gardeners. 

Garden coordinator David Wessels said the summer apprenticeship program at Troy Howard Middle School currently has five high school students helping out with their extensive garden and learning more in-depth practices and philosophies about agriculture. They also mentor the middle school gardening program, he said. The apprentice positions are paid and funded by the Belfast Garden Club along with donations by Belfast Lions Club, Belfast Rotary Club, and Rollies Bar & Grill. The Seed-Saving program is a big part of their operation starting with dry beans and expanding to heirloom vegetable varieties which they package and sell at the Belfast Co-op. “We’re keeping some of these varieties alive,” he said.

Ten-thousand years ago, Wessels noted, corn was continuously bred by indigenous farmers who saved seeds. Students have also been making small bouquets of cut flowers for the hospital and people in local nursing homes. “We made 40 (bouquets) last week,” he said. “August is an amazing time in the garden. “I see this as a community space not only for students but for the community too.” Wessels said seed garlic will be available for sale at the Aug. 27 Open Garden.

Lindsay Schortz is the science and math teacher at BCOPE alternative school. She also coordinates the garden program at the school where they have a two-student summer intern program this year. Funding for the five-week summer program came through the Garden Club as well as through their own fundraising efforts selling vegetables at a school-sponsored farmstand. This is the first year with high school interns, she said. Last year they had one college student help out with the program at the quarter-acre garden. “The kids have been really invested in the garden, starting many plants from seeds.” According to Schortz, the internship is a paid position, where students go through a job application and review process. “The idea is to approach it as a real job,” she said. “And it’s something that can go on their resume. “We are really fortunate to have this program.”