Forest Gardeners invite participation

The sunlight filtered gently through the trees and a light breeze rustled through the leaves. Trees, bushes and flowers dotted the area with their varied colors and shapes. Along the grassy slope, students clustered, weeding and harvesting, laughing and smiling.

From 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. this past Saturday, the Forest Gardeners held their second work day of the semester. The Forest Garden, located on the slope beside Stetson Hall and the Center for Environmental Studies (CES), began as an idea in the autumn of 1994. Plans were made and planting began in the spring of 1996.

Since then, the Forest Gardeners have created an outdoor sanctuary with not only a plethora of plants, but also benches and soft plots of grass. The gardeners welcome others to enjoy the fruits of their labor. For the past two years, they have made presentations to the Environmental Studies 101 classes, to increase awareness of their project.

The garden, though flourishing, is far from complete. A great deal of planting took place just last spring and a great deal more is planned for this year.

The traditional concept of a Forest Garden is a self-sustaining, non-competitive, garden of native edible plants, according to Chris Spence ’00. When completed, the garden should be a community of plant species, living productively together, without the need for weeding or other human intervention, he said.

CES’ Forest Garden is a completely organic array of species, planted so as to create a harmonic system. According to Elizabeth Wood ’99, the garden is intended to be a continuum from domesticated to native species. She said the plant life progresses from domesticated annuals and herbs beside the house, to beds of vegetables and flowers across the walkway. The garden continues up through the wildflower meadow to the wild and native food-producing perennials like the raspberry bushes. Spence compared the garden to a river valley, with Kellogg House as the farmhouse and hills rising up to wilder, more forested regions.

Several large trees, which have remained undisturbed throughout the planting of the garden, contribute pleasant patches of shade. They also allow for varied planting conditions. Beneath one of these trees is a circle of stumps clustered to create an outdoor classroom. Many classes have already made use of the unique setting of the stump circle for small discussion groups.

Despite the working students, last Saturday at the garden didn’t feel like a workday. Upbeat music poured up the slope from the house. Students happily pulled weeds or picked berries, while sharing stories and smiles. Students say the work is not regimented or intense and no one objects to those who munch the berries as they harvest them

“It’s a real change of pace from my regular Williams week,” said Spence. Saturday morning work sessions are “a really relaxing way to start off the weekend — with good company,” said Becky Sanborn ’01.

The community atmosphere draws many students of all classes to the garden. Last Saturday, one small cluster of students included a first-year, a sophomore, two juniors, and a senior.

Anne Dwyer ’01 has been going to the garden since the beginning of her freshman year. “I’ve been gardening with my mother for a long time and I missed it when I first got here,” she said.

Irena Hollowell ’02 didn’t garden very much at all at home, but she is excited about the future plans for the garden. “I just thought that it was really cool that there was some space here that wasn’t just lawn with all its fertilizers,” she said. “Most agriculture is not as good for the environment as this is.”

Most of the students welcome a different type of work from class and studying. “I come to get dirty,” said Wood. “I just really love gardening, physical work, in the outdoors.” When Lauren Buckley ’99 looks out over the Forest Garden, she sees more than just weeding and harvesting prospects. “I like working in the earth, as reconnection to simpler ways of life, re-acknowledging our connection to the land and involvement with our ecosystem,” she said.

Doone MacKay ’98 started working in the Garden spontaneously one day last spring when she happened upon students working and decided to join them. “It was really great to get outside and do something useful…and fun,” she said. MacKay was eager to share information about the Garden. She excitedly pointed out various plants, including currants, elderberries, sugar maple, raspberries, black raspberries, apple trees, beech and butternut trees, purple aster and blackberries.

Her welcoming attitude was characteristic of all the Forest Gardeners. “We definitely encourage people to come down, see what’s going on,” said Spence.

According to the gardeners, autumn is the harvesting season, and it looks as though the crop will be plentiful. Right now, raspberries abound, and next will be beets, beans and tomatoes. There are no restrictions on picking the edibles, and many passing students stop on their way to class for a few berries. Everyone is welcome at Saturday morning sessions and new gardeners are appreciated.

On their display in the CES living room, the Forest Gardeners extend “An invitation: to you, as you glance out at it; to us as we work through it; to the plants as they grow into it; to the soil as it wriggles and holds. We welcome your participation.”

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