MONROE, CT — A patch of grass near the playground at the United Methodist Church of Monroe may not look like much now, but a group of church members are planning to have beds bursting with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and a pollinator garden that will attract bees and butterflies.
Kelley Keane-McAlexander, who is organizing the volunteers, said conversations with her mother, Rebecca Denike, and Brian Sherwood led to the idea.
“I went with it, because I love gardening and I wanted to help the church to bring people together — and get the kids excited about seeing things grow,” she said in an interview at the church, located at 515 Cutlers Farm Road.
McAlexander said The Rev. Charles J. Schif, pastor of UMC Monroe, is supportive of the project.
One recent morning, McAlexander sat at a table inside the church with Denike and Sherwood. Others who have given her guidance on gardening include Kelley Hangos-Carrano, Bill Field, Jennifer Palmieri and Suz Dyer.
McAlexander said she really got into gardening the last four years, planting flowers and vegetable gardens.
At the church, she said there will be four six-by-six raised beds. Three will be dedicated to warm weather vegetables and the fourth will be for the pollinator garden with milkweed, coneflower (echinacea), yarrow and lobelia.
If the garden thrives with future harvests, McAlexander said its vegetables can help financially strapped church members and donations can also be made to the Monroe Food Pantry.
“We have to be able to harvest first,” she said, noting the challenges of gardening in the center of Monroe, which has no shortage of hungry deer, squirrels and chipmunks. “We have to protect our garden.”
Denike said there is already a fence surrounding the land, but Sherwood said it is not high enough to keep out deer. Sherwood said there are smart people McAlexander can talk to for advice on how to keep critters out of the garden.
Sherwood built the beds and though McAlexander already planted peas, she said the planting will begin in earnest by mid-May.
Boys Scouts from Monroe’s Troop 63 included UMC’s garden in a list of community gardens people can donate a half flat of vegetables to. Boy Scouts will deliver it to the church. For details on Troop 63’s spring plant sale, click here.
Aside from providing beauty and food, McAlexander said the garden can be used as a teaching tool. For instance, she said The Rev. Schif recently did a sermon on bearing fruit.
Sherwood said the Bible includes numerous mentions of nurturing, growing and protecting, which could apply to a garden. He said children can help water and maintain the garden beds.
The gardening effort will include people of all ages, even those who cannot get their hands into the dirt. McAlexander said older church members who have a love of gardening can share their knowledge.
“This offers us an activity that will pull people together,” Sherwood said. “But you need someone willing to say, ‘I’ll run it.’ People like Kelley are hard to find.”