Gardiner's Gardeners came to be as an outcome from a Gardiner Main Street annual meeting. As I was facilitating a group discussion about community based activities, the conversation turned to the possible ways the downtown could be made more attractive. One thing led to another and when we reported out to the whole group, the suggestion was made to form a 'garden club'. An open meeting was scheduled and the group organized formally around the notion of community gardening. Our first effort was to assume the responsibility for all city gardens - the Waterfront, by the entrance signs, the two pocket parks McKay and Johnson Hall, the Wild Garden in the woods and a strange perennial garden next to the Bailey property. This garden would come to be known as the 'Steamboat Overlook'.
That first winter we brainstormed how we could create blooms on Water Street and came up with a plan for twenty four planter boxes that would be made locally. Joe Caputo, a local craftsman, offered to create them if we could give him a plan. Sawn from his accumulation of old utility poles, he produced the cedar stands and we went looking for trays that would fit. We found masonry trays at Home Depot that would fill the bill and then applied for a Robinson Trust grant for funding. The Trust did fund us generously, but suggested that rather than pay for the construction of the planters, we should offer them for sale with a commemorative plaque. And so we did. Surprise for us, all twenty four sold in a matter of weeks in memory of loved ones, relatives still living and businesses in Gardiner. We had traditional family dedications, including our favorite - the Clockodiles, also Gardiner Rotary, our local banks, one from our resident artist Robert Saunders with 'Having Said That' and even one paid for by a group of businesses dedicated to 'Albert and Elizabeth Conary' a well-loved elderly couple who walked miles to town each nice day.... When spring arrived, we all pitched in and planted a variety of annuals that thrived in the sun and rain. As the trays are relatively shallow, they needed watering each day of summer sun, but we found staunch allies in this work from the business owners themselves. Now, about half the planters are tended by the Gardeners, the remaining ones by people who own and operate businesses on the street.
Each year the planting design has changed, some years saw infestations of insects, one planter was attacked by a mystery person, or so we thought. Come to find out, deer were coming out of the wooded streamside at night and munching on our available plants. And, occasionally, someone sits in one. This led to the design and build of eight benches with donated mahogany-like lumber from Lapointe's. Working with the talented artists at SpinOff Studios, we had the benches done in no time and found people sitting on them all summer long.
The Gardeners also spray horticultural vinegar up and down Water Street all summer, killing annual weeds that normally grow quite tall. In addition, we mount 'attacks' on knotweed on many city properties, most particularly along the Cobbossee Stream bordering the Arcade lot. Brandishing our own machetes and other tools, we have managed to tame the streambank and open the water's edge for summer views. Coupled with the maintenance of the many city gardens, we let out a sigh of relief and satisfaction when Labor Day comes and the end of the growing season brings us some needed rest from the routine. When the ice goes out each year, we gather our energy once more and plan for new growth in our old river city!
-Robert Abbey, Streetscape Chairperson