Creating an Engaging Space for Gardeners at a home for High Risk Youth

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Yesterday I visited a residential home for at-risk youth 14 to 21 years of age in the New York’s Capital Region.

This is the garden’s third year and there is a lot of interest in growing food and flowers and in improving the soils.

Last year, a pizza garden with tomatoes, peppers and herbs was popular. This year, residents will be choosing what they want to grow from a list that includes everything from carrots to strawberries.

Expansion Plans

At least four more raised beds measuring 4×8 will be added to the gardens which already have a total of 14 raised beds. The garden is in an urban area but backs up on a wild space where groundhogs, rabbits and squirrels make their homes. Unfortunately, they have found the garden.

At our meeting, the project’s overseers had questions.  Here’s what they asked, my answers and if you have any suggestions, please add your comments.


Location is everything. And, a very smart groundhog has taken up residence under the garden shed.  Literally, the groundhog lives a stone’s throw from the vegetable beds.

The best way to deal with wildlife is a good fence. I recommended a wire fence to keep groundhogs and rabbits out of the garden. Along the outside of the fence, plant garlic and onions to deter pests.

But it that fails and an animal is a nuisance causing damage, contact your local DEC office to see what can be done. Some animals can be relocated without a permit, others can not. 

Adding Interest

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Echinacea is a good choice for a garden to attract bees and butterflies. It’s taproot, which means in can withstand drought and survive in hard, clay soils.

Right now, the garden only has raised beds, but there is space, potential and a strong desire to make it more engaging for the resident gardeners.


Here are a few ideas.

1 – A garden border that would attract butterflies and beneficial insects.  Milkweed, Echinacea and Rubeckia seeds were recommended because they are tough, spread easily and in the case of Echinacea and Rubeckia, drought tolerant. In other words, once established, this garden should need little care.

You could take it a step further, add more butterfly attracting plants and establish the garden as a monarch waystation.  For more information:

2 – A bird bath with a solar sprinkler to add to the delight of the garden, attract birds and add sound. The solar sprinklers are available online and cost under $20.

3 – Provide a shade retreat for residents and a comfortable place to hang out. Right now, the garden patio is concrete and in full sun most of the day, which means it is often too hot to enjoy.  A triangle sun shade sail would provide shade space to sit and relax and enjoy the garden. You can shop online and find several sizes and configurations.  They cost under $50.

Two corners of the triangle could be attached to the building. The third corner would need to be secured to a pole, which is an additional cost.

4 – A final possibility is a hummingbird feeder. I didn’t suggest a bird feeder because of the wildlife already visiting the garden. But a hummingbird feeder located outside a window might draw tiny visitors to the garden, and curious residents out to see them.

Any other ideas? Add them to the comments below.





Gardeners Choose Food Over Flowers

I received a press release from Burpee recently and wasn’t surprised to read that gardeners across the country are putting their energies into growing vegetables over flowers.

““Most urban agriculture projects consist mostly of vegetables and herbs with a few flowers on the side,”” observed George Ball, a 35 year veteran of both the cut flower and vegetable business. The keynote speaker at the recent Urban Agriculture Conference held at New York University in Manhattan, Ball urged the more than 300 urban gardeners in attendance “to meet the great potential and pent-up demand for fresh flowers.”

Fresh cut flowers have almost vanished from urban homes, parties and other public and private events, according to Ball, past president of The American Horticultural Society and chairman and C.E.O. of the home gardening company, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

“Think of cut flowers as an endangered species,” he quipped, urging those attending to allocate space for flowers in whatever enterprise they undertake.
Ball also pointed out the latest research at Rutgers University that proves that fresh flowers in the home alleviate mild depression or other mood disorders. “Vegetables are fuel for our body,” he concluded, “but flowers connect with the deepest parts of our spirit.”

The conference was held under the auspices of the Horticultural Society of New York, at NYU’s Kimmel Center.

I think there’s something to be said for growing flowers among the vegetables. I tend to grow things that “work” meaning flowers that draw beneficial insects into our gardens, repel the bad bugs and add fragrance for the enjoyment of the gardeners. And while some flowers might be cut and brought indoors – like a little lavender bouquet for next to the bed – in my gardens most flowers will remain with their roots in the earth and faces in the sun doing what they were planted to do.

I don’t find the need to grow flowers to cut and bring inside this time of year. Do you? The flowers I do pick tend to add to whatever I am doing rather than be on display. For example, nasturtiums will be picked to add to a salad, flowers will be used to decorate cakes for a garden party and in the fall armloads of hydrangeas will be cut and dried for Christmas decorating. Perhaps, I have a more practical view.

And with urban gardens, where every bit of space counts, I can understand choosing food over flowers. What do you think?

BTW – In the plots at the Moreau Community Garden’s Family Gardening Program we are growing a colorful display of hard-working flowers such as marigolds, sunflowers, zinnias and cleome. They will not be picked but left in the garden for the enjoyment of everyone.