On the ground: Despite funding decline, gardens keep growing

Chatting jovially with eight other volunteers, Dwight neighborhood resident Pat Wallace preciously patted marigold seeds down in her tray and sprinkled soil over them with a wave of her hand.

On Tuesday morning, a group of garden-loving women from local community activism associations gathered in the Pardee Greenhouse at the Rose Gardens in Hamden, kicking off a three-week initiative to plant seedlings for the spring season. The seeds, which were donated by private companies and citizens due to the lack of the city government’s funding, will be planted around New Haven and local neighborhoods for the purpose of beautifying the city.

“We were told about the lack of funding at our first meeting when we had to collect the seedlings,” Wallace said “But that just inspired us to step in and keep helping our city.”

Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s flower-planting program, spearheaded by Department of Parks Project Coordinator Doreen Oboyski for 12 years, provides the Elm City with a green space that residents annually cultivate with flowers and plants. But this year’s national economic crisis has affected the city government’s ability to continue their financial support towards the progressive effort to enhance the city’s natural appearance.

“This year the budget was very slim and we had to make decisions and create priorities within our budget,” City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said. “Unfortunately, the flower planting couldn’t be one of them.”

Horticulturist Matthew Naab, who has been with the parks department for 22 years, explained the group received seed donations from half a dozen companies and volunteers, which eased the group’s financial costs.

“Because the city cut back on their funding, we had to change gears this year,” Naab said. “Instead of getting partially grown plants that we could directly place, we received seeds and soils for planting, which is ultimately less expensive.”

Bright yellow marigolds, red zinnias and coleus are among the annual and perennial plants the volunteer group plans to place throughout the city’s parks and neighborhoods.

Yet the lack of city funding called for the volunteers to sow the seeds themselves for the first time.

Clad in an assortment of green clothing, Betty Thompson, a resident from the Cedar Hill neighborhood, grabbed a bag of gaillardia seeds and sifted them through her fingers onto the ground. The extra work, she said, did not bother her in the slightest.

“I find it exciting because I’m learning something new,” Thompson said. “And I’m around like-minds who share the same mission as me: to keep New Haven green.”

Oboyski noted there was an increase in volunteering by community members because of city partnerships with the Urban Resources Initiative and the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven. The volunteers who gathered for the opening event helped to sow 17,000 to 18,000 seedlings.

Mayorga said the city is pleased with the environmental activism shown by local community members and considers them “one of the main reasons that we are able to continue our beautification efforts.”

As Wallace put it: “Gardeners are a hardy group. We are not easily discouraged.”

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