Andrea Woodhall assures me she's smiling as photographed in the Vandergrift Children's Garden in the city's Franklin Park. Photos by Doug Oster

Green With Doug: Visiting Vandergrift Children's Garden

by Doug Oster


June 1, 2020

A row of beans has sprouted in the in the Vandergrift Children's Garden.

It doesn’t take Andrea Woodhall long to plant the ‘Golden King of Siberia’ tomato plant I brought as a gift for the Vandergrift Children’s Garden in the city’s Franklin Park. There’s a sort of mutual understanding between gardeners when trading plants, often times they are put in the ground before much talk or in this case the start of an interview about a kid’s garden without kids due to COVID-19.

After getting that tomato into the ground, she reflects on last year’s garden which was filled with young faces and adult helpers cheerfully planting the vegetables for the initial season of the space. “It was pure joy,” Woodhall says of that first garden. “They were just so curious; it makes you excited to just keep doing it.” Today it’s just Woodhall and her husband working in the garden as currently anyone under 18 years of age is not permitted in the area during the pandemic.

The Penn State master gardener of Armstrong County helped found the Children’s Garden with help of other volunteers. “My love of gardening started when I was little with my grandma,” she says through her protective face mask. “I just wanted to give back, hoping the kids will love gardening as well.” A minor problem in the first season was too much love in the way of overwatering. “I think I was more concerned about this garden than my garden,” she says with a laugh. “I wanted to make sure that it thrived.” Now the goal is to water twice a week, or when needed. Last year’s garden produced lots of vegetables for the kids, some of the herbs took a little hit from rabbits before a wire fence was erected, but all in all a success.

Everything was on schedule during the second-year planning meetings in February until the world was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. After a lot of thought, they decided as a group to move forward without the kids.
The garden was planted with a few people social distanced and only a couple gardeners in masks do the watering. There are tomatoes, beans, herbs, squash, other vine crops, corn, flowers, peas strawberries, peppers and more growing in the raised wooden beds.

Old tires are used as planters in the garden.

“Even though we don’t have the kids here to help, our hope is that they’ll be able to come later in the summer to harvest,” says Woodhall. Her team also hopes to have educational classes for the children too.
If the kids can’t come into the garden, a pantry will be set up just outside the fence to get the produce into the right hands.
Woodhall’s positive outlook is shared by the rest of the garden team. “I think that’s our group, we are hopeful,” she says. “We want to see the best for our community and especially our children because they’re our future,” she says. Woodhall hopes the kids will find the same joy that she does working in the dirt and will in turn pass it along one day to their own kids. “Gardening is important, she says, they should know how to do it.”
Woodhall and the group have plans to expand the growing space, which will include a sensory garden which will also include pollinator plants and adding fruiting shrubs like blueberries too.
“I do feel proud, Woodhall says of the garden, mostly that a group of people came together to do this.”
When thinking about the children, she’s optimistic they will be able to spend some quality time in the garden this summer. “I think the best thing is that the kids can be outside with their families, they can dig for worms, eat tomatoes and pick green beans.”

A wire fence protects two different varieties of Thyme in the Vandergrift Children's Garden.

Doug Oster writes a weekly column for The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter.

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