Past the six-foot wire fence, a gently sloped path winds around and into the garden through a patchwork of individual Edens: a vegetable patch of tomatoes, zucchini, basil and eggplant; another plot bursting with sunflowers; a well-tended section of record-breaking pumpkins. Herbs, flowers and vegetables are the stars in the two-acre community garden adjacent to the Darien Nature Center on Brookside Road.
Some sixty-five plots are available for locals to dig in and grow their dreams.
In this unique spot, Darien residents and town employees can cultivate and harvest organic herbs, flowers and vegetables from spring until the first frost. The town provides the water and the gardeners do the rest … including attending at least one clean-up day in the spring and maintaining the path on the northeast side of their plots. Total cost: $10 to the town of Darien and $20 per plot for garden maintenance — not bad for deer-fenced, shade-free gardening!
Established in the 1970s by the Garden Club of Darien, Cherry Lawn Community Garden brings together gardeners of all ages and abilities. “People might come here because they don’t have enough sun in their yard, or maybe they live in a condo with no outdoor space. Some young families play in the park and then garden together,” according to Sonia Smith, community garden coordinating committee chairperson and thirty-year resident of Darien. “Often it’s just for the camaraderie: This is a great way to learn gardening tips from others.”
In this all-organic garden, no toxic chemicals are allowed. That means no pesticides, no herbicides. “We do allow dust to keep down the beetles … but it’s important to be careful that what you do in your plot doesn’t interfere with what your neighbor is doing,” notes Sonia.
This summer the garden committee is working with the town on getting new fencing to better protect crops from hungry deer and rabbits. The town also delivers truckloads of woodchips to line the path and help control the weeds. Shovels, rakes and carts are on hand for all to use.
If the thought of staying on top of weeding and watering is a bit overwhelming, consider sharing a plot with a friend or another family. This popular option helps to keep the cost down and the weeds under control if you plan to go away for a summer vacation.
Exchanging seeds and plant sharing are also quite common. “If I get nine pepper plants, I can’t possibly use them all,” explains Sonia. “We actually have a table where we leave extra plants for sharing between gardeners. This way nothing goes to waste.” Although the garden doesn’t have a farmers’ market, extra produce is often donated to the local senior center or to Person-to-Person.”
Tomatoes and basil top the list of most popular crops. But last year, the “Great Pumpkin” grown by Andrew Hedlund with help from his brother, Dirk, and sister, Katharine, grabbed the headlines. Andrew, an Eckerd College sophomore, has always been a horticulturalist, according to his mother, Patricia. “But we couldn’t grow vegetables in our garden because of the deer,” she explains. When Andrew decided to join the community garden and grow a pumpkin, no one was surprised. Last year’s Atlantic Hybrid Giant (seeds from P&P Seed Co. in New York) weighed in at more than 350 pounds. To move the pumpkin out of the garden — and put it on view at the First Congregational Church of Darien for all to enjoy — Patricia called on a few Darien High School football players, who were happy to oblige.
What’s Andrew planning this year? He’ll experiment with different composts and fertilizers in an effort to grow a 500-pounder. Stop by to see his progress, but be careful not to walk on any of the vines.
Unfortunately, last year’s patch suffered a few casualties from excited visitors.