Many people zoom past on their way to and from Smock Bridge, but DeArment Park is getting a upgrade.
The green space between French Creek Parkway, Linden Street and Park Avenue has returned to the care of Penn State Master Gardeners Paula Rudler and Barbara Barickman after a year's absence for construction.
In partnership with Channellock, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the City of Meadville, the gardeners are completing prep work on the irrigation system before planting this week. They plan to plant red, white and blue flowers along with fountain grass to mimic the starbursts of the U.S. flag.
Rudler and Barickman, who were classmates at the six-month master gardeners course at the Penn State Extension center in West Mead Township, have given DeArment Park fresh flora for 15 years. According to Rudler, they plan to put in 3,500 plants for 2019.
Their first year was not without trial and error.
"We called (the conservancy) down in Pittsburgh, and they were totally shocked," Rudler said. "They said, ‘Yes, we’d love to have you.’ They didn’t really have any plants ordered, so they sent us up zinnias. We planted them. That’s what they had left. About three weeks in, somebody said, ‘Well, when are you planting?’ because they looked so bad."
The conservancy sent another delivery — 200 black-eyed Susans — and the two were planting again.
The planning begins in the fall of the previous year when the conservancy sends a list of available plants to Rudler and Barickman from which to choose. Then in April, the two start gathering everyone together to restart the planting process. Once the garden is complete, the master gardeners continue to maintain the park throughout the year.
They explained that, with the help of Meadville City Manager Andy Walker and Bennett Gould, the city’s stormwater program support manager, the park received new water pits to tie the irrigation lines into the city water system.
Barickman said DeArment Park is the conservancy's second largest community garden, and Rudler added the only bigger location is a garden outside of the Fort Pitt Tunnel in Pittsburgh.
About 40 people will help plant and mulch on Saturday, and Channellock will provide food and KFC will donate morning coffee.
"Master gardeners, we teach and volunteer, and by doing so, when we first started, we had to have 50 hours of volunteerism," Rudler said. "Now we only have to have 20 hours, but we probably put in 50 down here, at least."
Rudler recalled a time, years ago, when they were planting at DeArment Park in the pouring rain. John Amato, owner of J. Amato & Son Army Navy Store in Meadville and a current Crawford County commissioner, drove past and asked how many people were working. He returned with 50 plastic raincoats.
"We’ve made a lot of friends, and we’ve met a lot of nice community people," Barickman said. "It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun."
And those busy motorists? Rudler said they often receive compliments.
"All the people who drive by and say, ‘Thank you for doing this' — It’s so heartwarming," Rudler said.
Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.