Today I would like to welcome Jen Salem as a guest blogger on A Place for All Seasons. Jen is the TREC Volunteer Coordinator for the Gardens at TREC. She is in the middle of making wonderful progress in the improvements at the gardens. For those of you who do not know, the gardens represent the changing zones of plant growth that can be found on the park. TREC has the goal of keeping ONLY native plants in the garden.
As you might guess, one of the biggest jobs is to keep the WEEDS out. Just like at home, this is a never-ending job. So without further talk by me – - Here’s Jen!
I’m Jen Salem and I’ve had the pleasure of working as the Garden Volunteer Coordinator for the Gardens at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC). I was asked to write about what I’ve learned during my six months as Coordinator and my impressions on the Garden.
Is enthusiasm contagious? I think so. Anyone that has volunteered for me or participated in a Garden Tour knows I love my job. Working with plants and people and talking to people about plants is what makes me happy. My number one goal as coordinator is to get people excited about our Garden. Every volunteer that I have had the pleasure to work with knows that I can’t stop talking about the great resource we have planted out here. But what makes the native garden at TREC so unique, and what purpose does it serve?
In preparation for this article, I pulled out my Garden “to do” list for May. “Weed all beds, cut back last year’s perennials, establish a comprehensive list of all species found in Garden…” Truth be told, I haven’t accomplished anything on my list. Mid-way through June, my priorities shifted, and I think for the better.
I laugh every time I read that original list. My expectations were so unrealistic! After working with my first few individual volunteers and groups, I began to realize that what mattered wasn’t the amount of work that was done, but the experiences and education that volunteers left with that counted. I know how gratifying volunteer work is. As a Penn State Master Gardener, I am an active volunteer in the Erie Community. I know that it is not the specific task that is important, but the feeling of pride and accomplishment that volunteers are rewarded with that matter.
I love being the facilitator for that feeling! I love that the Gardens at TREC are more about people than about plants. And I love that I am rewarded by working with happy, generous and enthusiastic volunteers.
By the way, did I mention that the Gardens at TREC are solely maintained by volunteers? The best way to learn about plants is to work with them, so yes; I am always looking for volunteers. No experience needed, just bring a positive attitude and a willingness to learn.
Of course the Gardens at TREC would not exist without the plants, so let’s talk about what’s there. The Garden at TREC is a great example of a native ecosystem. Perhaps that’s what we should call it instead of a garden. To me, the term garden infers a heavily manicured, heavily groomed area. That is definitely not what you will see here. The Garden was originally planted to represent the distinct ecosystems found on the Peninsula and as an educational tool for TREC visitors (see Gene’s blog dated September 28, 2012). The plants you will encounter in the Garden are native plants, found growing on Presque Isle.
Using native plants in your own backyard is a great way to create a habitat for many native species. Native plants require little care, and they benefit the environment by not needing additional fertilizer or supplemental water. They provide food and shelter for birds, mammals and insects, and they beautify even the smallest of spaces. The amazing thing about native plants is that they thrive when they are neglected, so even novice gardeners can grow them with ease.
I guess my genuine appreciation of natives comes from working with them every day, and witnessing the awesome beauty of the Garden first-hand. The Garden is a living, ever-changing place that requires a more than just a passing glance from visitors to be fully appreciated. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but considering that the alternative to planting a garden was to have acres and acres of concrete, I think we are doing just fine.
If you take away nothing else from this article, please consider this…the next time you visit TREC, take five minutes to look around outside. There is so much waiting to be discovered. And if you happen to see me working, stop by, say hello, or ask me a question, because you know I will always have something to say about the Garden.
See you on the Park and on your way stop at TREC and see a new world open up!!
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