Senior Garden 1

Marianne Slagle (left) and a fellow member of the Derby Senior Center’s gardening club tend to some of the beds at the OAC space. This spring, club members and other patrons will be helping start a new garden by the Derby Public Works facility.

April showers bring May flowers, but the Derby Senior Center will be hoping they bear a little more filling fruit (and veggies) this year as it prepares for a new gardening project in 2021.

Previously, Senior Services Director BreAnna Monk said the center and members of its gardening club had partnered with the Oaklawn Activity Center to maintain a number of raised garden beds on site the past couple of years.

Changes to the OAC community garden project – which Derby Recreation Commission Community Wellness Coordinator Debbie Williams reported is being discontinued indefinitely – led those involved (namely the senior center and Derby Public Schools) to pursue different outlets this season.

For the Derby Senior Center, that created an opportunity to start its own community garden this spring with a new site already secured. It will be located near the tree farm at the Public Works facility (east of the Buckner/55th Street intersection).

“Even though we have to start from square one, this will be a great community project,” Monk said.

In this sense, community refers primarily to senior center members, as Monk noted the garden will be a private project for the organization open for use by the gardening club and other members of the center.

Monk and the nine other members of the gardening club will help cultivate and maintain this garden as well, though she noted other senior center patrons will be able to help out. All, she noted, will still be able to reap the benefits of the garden as originally intended.

“With creating the garden that we have coming up and going through the Oaklawn Activity Center garden initially, we were able to give a farm to table type of nutrition program where a lot of seniors benefitted,” Monk said. “Various seniors don’t actually receive adequate nutrition, especially with fresh vegetables.”

Through the previous work with the OAC community garden, vegetables were harvested and distributed among senior center members on Tuesdays. Plans for that type of free distribution will remain in place with the new garden, Monk said.

Additionally, Monk noted being active in the garden allows members another exercise outlet and having master gardeners as members present the opportunity for education as well.

Not wanting to uproot its project with the OAC, Monk admitted having a more permanent, nearby garden has some built-in advantages. In particular, she noted the opportunity to get more members of the senior center actively involved could not be overlooked.

“One of the goals I want to see is the volunteer work, for them to be active. Throughout the pandemic, activity levels dropped immensely. There was not a whole lot seniors could do. They were one of the highly affected populations,” Monk said. “With bringing this project and with things starting to improve in our community, building this will give them the activity, the energy and courage to go on, their voices to be heard, as well as nutrition.”

Derby Senior Center’s new garden will have a few more beds – with plans for 12 total – as well as a shed on site to store equipment (like stools to accommodate the gardeners).

Following the guidance of the Farmers Almanac and the senior center’s own master gardeners, Monk noted the crops (tomatoes, peppers, etc.) will look similar to what was previously planted at the OAC site. Convenience and ease of access with the new garden, though, are two elements she is hoping will open up participation to even more members.

Currently, the gardening club and Public Works Department are making final preparations with the new site, though Monk said she is looking into outside help – as it will take “a lot of different hands on deck” – to make sure the senior center garden is set to go by the end of April.