Former garbage dump transformed

| 19 Jun 2024 | 08:24

    Fifteen years ago, Dave Watson-Hallowell, then president of Sustainable West Milford, and I, an herbalist, author and educator, walked the triangle at the intersection of Clinton Road and Warwick Turnpike.

    I tried to envision how we might remove all the garbage and poison ivy covering virtually every inch of the land and turn it into an educational, medicinal herb garden.

    Against all odds, with a small core group of helpers; many volunteers, including my students; and several hard-won grants from Passaic County’s Dig In program, along with a start-up grant from United Plant Savers Native Plant/Botanical Sanctuary program, we created and maintained the Native and Wild Medicinal plant garden, later re-dedicated as the Douglass Memorial Garden, for my beloved partner, who’d put in many hours of labor and teaching there.

    Our garden was open to all, and countless hours of love and labor created it. Hundreds of volunteers from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut came to work and attended our free educational programs. I often met people at local shops, restaurants, post office, etc. who told me how much they enjoyed and appreciated the garden.

    Sadly, from the beginning, our efforts were poorly supported by our town, with new trees mowed down numerous times and then complaints about messiness dogging us, lack of understanding about water catchment and compost piles from some neighbors.

    It was daunting but we persevered. Our garden was recognized and awarded a grant by the Passaic County Commissioners, the only medicinal herb garden to get this grant, and I had the honor of accepting the governor’s Jefferson Award in recognition of outstanding volunteer benefit to one’s community.

    I turned the garden over to master gardener Karen Longo and John Harrison in 2018 but continuing problems and lack of clear communication from the Beautification Committee regarding how to resolve them, as well as some sudden shift in contract being required, have made continuing the garden impossible for Karen and John.

    I needed to speak to the tremendous loss to the community that this is. We brought a piece of neglected land to life, rebuilding the dead soil, making habitat for small animals and birds, planting rare botanicals that were raised from seed to help them repopulate in the wild, and building community through work days, parties and educational outdoor classes.

    I would think that our town’s Beautification Committee would do better to recognize and support our efforts, not hamper them.

    What will happen to this former garbage dump that was transformed into a thriving medicinal herb garden now? Nothing? Something even better? Let’s see.

    Robin Rose Bennett