By Konstantine Fekos
The flowers at Mary B. DeArment Memorial Park don’t just spring up out of the ground.
The year-round maintenance of Penn State Master Gardeners of Crawford County and additional volunteers ensures a colorful welcome to Meadville, according to members who spent their Saturday morning in the group’s culminating effort, its annual DeArment Park Planting.
Master Gardeners have been maintaining the triangular plot on the Meadville side of Smock Bridge, rain or shine, since the mid-1990s, planting a variety of flowers each spring for the city’s citizens and visitors, according to Barb Barickman, Master Gardeners co-chair.
“I think it’s a nice welcome to Meadville,” she said. “The city is beyond fabulous in helping us maintain the park.”
Powered mainly by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and several park sponsors, Master Gardeners rake and weed the grounds before mulching and planting between 2,500 and 3,000 flowers a year, including daisy-like zinnias, copper-colored marigolds and fiery-red celosias.
“The conservancy deserves a lot of credit for donating all the flowers and providing us with supplies,” Barickman said. “And we couldn’t do it without our sponsors.”
Master Gardeners dedicated this year’s efforts to long-time member and volunteer Cindy Soltys, who passed away from cancer Friday night, according to fellow member and gardening veteran Bertha Mesarch.
“She was someone we all looked up to,” Mesarch said, remembering Soltys’ positive attitude and dedication. “She was very knowledgeable. She was really our leader.”
Seasoned gardeners led approximately 40 volunteers this year from Meadville and surrounding areas, even as far as Erie County, including family and friends of Master Gardeners and community service workers. Preparation and planting began as early as 7:30 a.m. and finished at around noon, Barickman said.
Volunteers will maintain the garden throughout the summer, monitoring the irrigation system and pulling up any unsightly growths.
While many loyal volunteers possess strong knowledge of their craft, the Master Gardeners are looking to plant the seed of interest in younger volunteers.
“Some of our members are retiring or unable to be outdoors,” Mesarch said.
“I think more and more younger people are getting involved,” Master Gardener Patti Lesh added. “I’ve had people ask to be involve. It’s refreshing to see.”
Drivers bustling around the park Saturday morning apparently thought the gardening was refreshing as several saw fit to honk in appreciation — a common ritual, Lesh added.
“We get to hear comments all summer and tell people we helped make this happen,” she said. “It’s a nice sense of accomplishment.”
Maintaining the park every year also maintains good camaraderie between Master Gardeners and allows them to bond with volunteers while doing what they love, according to member Joyce Parker.
“It’s a great time,” she said. “You learn a lot and get to meet new friends.”
For active group members and volunteers, the DeArment Park project begins in November prior to the spring event, when flowers are ordered and received from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
“We’re always looking for new members and volunteers,” Barickman said.
Becoming a Master Gardener involves about seven months of classes and a testing requirement along with 50 hours of volunteer service for the first year.
For more information about the Master Gardener Program, contact the group’s headquarters at the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Crawford County, 13400 Dunham Road, Meadville, at 333-7460 or online at extension.psu.edu/crawford/programs/master-gardener.
The next major event for the Master Gardeners is their upcoming plant sale Saturday in the parking lot near Big Lots in downtown Meadville. Members will sell up to 850 home-raised herbs, vegetables and other various plants from 7 a.m. to noon.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.