Summer in the garden

A few weeks ago, Jennifer Scott took two large buckets of harvested garlic to the food bank with two of her children. They also took the time to braid some of the garlic and hang it to dry with care alongside the long handled tools in the shed. Now when one opens the door there’s a great garlicky blast that really gets the nostrils open and the blood circulating!

The garden is really growing fast right now. We’ve had good rains and the weeds are responding enthusiastically. One of the greatest pleasures that I’m experiencing is watching more butterflies than I can remember flitting around the garden zone. This can be attributed not only to the borage, sunflowers, and other reseeding annuals that we’ve planted in cinderblocks, but also to the hundred new native plants that we’ve positioned around the beds that border the fence line. A big thank you to all the hard work that went into creating those beds and also to half a dozen local Master Naturalists who came by to help with the planting on Saturday, June 21st.

One of the other great gifts that the garden provides is the continuing involvement of remarkable individuals. Perhaps once a sufficiency of blood and sweat has been left in a place you are forever tied to it. In the last two days, two former Madison House Project Leaders have visited the garden. Christine Wehner was back in Charlottesville for a visit this past weekend and stopped in a chat – and harvested some okra. The inimitable Sara Elizabeth (two time PVCC Horticulture and Environmental Club President) was found this morning watering the new plants to make sure that they’re firmly established and weathering this steamy July heat.

Madison House Spring 2014

Like the American bittersweet, so too vanishes the time with our Spring term’s Madison House volunteers. Thankfully quite a few of the team have said that they’ll be coming back for fall. Some have even said that they’ll pop in now and anon to work the garden’s soil this summer. As graduating Project Leader Christine Wehner said, “You’re not getting rid of me that easily!”
This was a great crew and they accomplished mighty deeds. Our new exterior fenceline beds, now planted with varieties of native plants, are largely due to their sweat and labor. So too with many of the vegetable beds. April 25th was their last visit to the garden but it was raining very heavily, so we celebrated the season with laughter and munchables in the back of the nearby Dickinson building, then trudged out for a parting look at the upright asparagus.
Madison House May 2014

UVA Women’s Leadership Development Program Leads The Way

UVA Women’s Leadership Development Program leads the way…

This past Sunday the community garden was graced by the presence of 16 hardworking and enthusiastic young leaders. They’re an impressive bunch. Readers can find out more about their organization at

We worked on two main tasks: continuing to build some new beds alongside the outside of our fenced border and turning over all eight of the existing beds to prepare them for spring planting.

They seized the reigns, asking questions without hesitation, sizing up the tools and breaking up into work groups, eyeing difficulties and suggesting solutions. I have rarely seen so highly functional a group. It’s enough to make one have some hope for the future!
Now if only some warm days would come… we’re going to more ready than ever for spring planting.

WLDP participants – stay in touch and watch the website. Come back and visit sometime. It’s going to be a great garden this year.

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UVA Women's Leadership Group 2014

Madison House Fridays

We have got the greatest group of Madison House volunteers, bar none! They’ve started volunteering in the garden again this semester during what can only be called winter, not usually known as the most hospitable time to roll up one’s sleeves and dig in frozen or muddy soil!

Beginning the last day of January, they have been working hard to continue building the new beds along two thirds of the garden’s fence lines. These are the most visible fences from the road and will look absolutely gorgeous once we get them planted with native plants. We’ll begin then creating the environment to host beneficial insects, pollinators galore, and lots of birds, bees, and butterflies.

Last Friday I snapped a picture of the crew. There are more than a dozen of them, not looking quite as muddy as one might expect given the day’s conditions. In order from right to left, the stars are: Rachel Patterson, Michelle Faggert, Malcolm Maloney, Owen Robinson, Henry Wykowski, Chris Porter, Andrew Wykowski , Mark Duda, Christine Wehner, Kelsey Kaehler, Isaac Li, Varun Kavuru, Jake Sperling. One other volunteer was present that day, Lia Cattaneo, but not pictured.
Again, a special shout out to Project Leader Christine Wehner. She demonstrates great enthusiasm and excellent leadership skills, is incredibly responsive, has Wahoo initiative oozing out of her pores, and can run with a dozen donuts in her belly.

Special thanks also to Andrew Wykowski. Down from Long Island visiting his brother Henry, he came along for the experience and put in some mighty labor. Thanks for the assist, Andrew. Come back sometime.

Madison House Feb 2014

Garden Visitors

December has drifted over the garden and as I sit at my desk and think back over what a successful fall it has been, it occurs to me that I didn’t post AT ALL about a very special day that occurred near the beginning of the semester, back when the beds were still in considerable disarray from the summer’s accelerated growth of magnificent plants in the wrong places. Yup, weeds in our beds. In fact, some of our beds were so overgrown it was hard to find the cinderblock outlines!
Into that dismal setting rode the knight errants of UVA’s Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Society. More than a dozen strong, they arrived in such high spirits that they blew the lid off the place. A few of us were there to witness their energetic efforts but words cannot fully convey the tale of the creation that they wrought over several hours of delirious labor. A few pictures will have to do.
Thanks to you all for these warm memories as the days darken and the temperature dips.











Madison House volunteers!

Madison House 2013-2014

Madison House 2013-2014

Among the lovely happenings in the garden this particular fall has been viewing the arrival every Friday at 3:00 of the incredible Madison House crew – if one is fortunate enough to be in the garden when they arrive! First one vehicle pulls up and then another, disgorging their confident forms. They right themselves, orient towards the garden gate, and swagger over like a band of community minded gunslingers. They’ve completely taken over the garden this semester and the space has never looked better. I’d like to especially thank Project Leader Christine Wehner for all her hard work and coordination. She has been more than ably assisted by the always affable and dedicated Lia Cattaneo. Both of these young women have chosen to return this second year and it has just been a delight to work with them. They are joined by: Anne Bennett, Linda Zhang, Chris Porter, Josh Carrier, Malcolm Maloney, and Varun “Pepper King” Kavuru. Malcom, by the way, came through with another group in the fall and enjoyed it so much that he’s jumped in with this merry band of green thumbed rapscallions.

Project SERVE

This past Saturday we were visited by UVA’s Project SERVE. From their website, one can read “U.Va.’s Project SERVE is an annual event with a twofold mission: to introduce incoming students to service and service learning opportunities at U.Va. and to familiarize participants with some of the local agencies that rely on the continued dedication and commitment of the University community.” More information is available at
Approximately a dozen volunteers spent two hours with us and completed weeded, raked out, planted and watered one of our eight raised beds. They were in great spirits and worked hard. They also tackled another greatly overgrown bed and got it half done too. We also found some adorable baby rabbits.
Thanks to Shaina Schaffer and Katelyn Ditzler for their project leadership and to the whole team for their service and companionship!Project SERVE 2013


A thoughtful moment in the garden

Yesterday three of us were down in the garden providing respertory aid to hot and sweet peppers alike. Jonathan and Dylan and I were pulling weeds to get some air circulating around them. We’ve got a great crop growing. It’s so lovely to part the dark green leaves and see the jalapenos reddening or bell peppers swelling, or the habaneros orange color richening. You can practically feel the heat on your tongue! Makes me crave hot late summer salsas and hot sauces – you know, the great endorphin rush that comes from eating of something that rates really high in scoville units.
We fed our souls with great conversation and as our hands moved among the tomatoes, peppers, and asparagus plants. And we were sure to try a couple of the Cossack Pineapple ground cherries before we left. If you’ve not tried these before, put them on your life list. They’re easy and delicious.
Jonathan also fixed up the table umbrella and moved our wooden tables to better grouund. Come and join us at the table.


Summer can be the most challenging time in the community garden but it can also be the time of greatest abundance. In between the triumph and terror lies growth, especially in a summer of good rain like the one that we’re concluding. For school based community gardens, summertime is also when most of the students are away and the volunteer labor force is scarce. I’d like to say thank you to PVCC Horticulture and Environmental club President Jonathan Dean, who has been the most consistent presence in the garden this summer. We’re looking forward to a great growing year under his leadership this coming fall and spring. He has been helped this summer by two past club presidents, Jesse Mlcoch and Sara Elizabeth, and a number of other devoted volunteers including Levi Perry, Christine Wehner (who is our Project Director with Madison House this coming year), Lia Cattaneo, Erin Hughey-Commers and others.
These days we are readying the garden for the arrival of fall’s students. We’re weeding, harvesting, and planting. This summer the tomatoes and peppers were tremendous, and the flowers planted in the cinderblocks of the raised beds made for a festive look. We were visited on several occasions by Jennifer Page with Spectrum camps and her charges greatly enjoyed learning by doing, harvesting and nibbling their way around everything from the peppers to the beans, from the tomatoes to the nasturtiums. I hope that everyone reading this enjoyed their summer and look forward to seeing you in the fall.