WESTERLY — It's called a community garden for a reason.
In the case of Westerly Land Trust's new community garden, which will open officially after a ceremony on Saturday, the facility was designed, built and largely paid for by local people, organizations and businesses. Local people have registered for the 20 plots and will grow vegetables, fruit, herbs, or flowers. Land trust members will maintain other parts of the garden and tend to the general upkeep of the site.
"It's amazing when you think of all the pieces that came together to make this garden happen. It's really pretty impressive. It makes me feel so good about this. It really was a community effort, I think we're going to have something that we're proud of over time," said Jennifer Fusco, Westerly Land Trust executive director, while taking a break from a day of digging at the garden at 145 Main St.
The new garden replaces the land trust's original garden at 177 Main St., which opened in 2012. The decision to move to the new location was born of the land trust's long-standing hope of finding a larger site and a neighboring property owner's request to use part of the original garden site for the new restaurant they plan to build next door.
Jennifer Brinton, chairwoman of the land trust's urban initiative committee, said the move to the new location and the new restaurant owners' promise to maintain green space at the former location were "all for the betterment of Main Street." The restaurant owner will lease the former garden space from the land trust.
The land trust, which has owned the land since 2005, razed a building at the new location in the winter of 2018. The building had previously been used by Brown Boatworx. Three underground tanks were found and disposed of. Soil tests showed the tanks remained intact and had not leaked, Brinton said.
The new garden has twice the number of plots as the previous site and includes four high planting beds for people who will work from a seated or standing position.
The town donated part of the compost allotment it receives from the state's central landfill to serve as a base for the garden beds, and organic bed mix purchased from Earth Care Farm in Charlestown was placed over the base material. The town also donated tree grates that had been used for trees that were planted on High Street and later removed. Cleveland Select Pear Trees are being planted at the garden. The flowering trees are less likely to cause the types of problems that led to the town removing the trees on High Street, Fusco said. (The downtown trees' roots caused problems and there were complaints about fruit dropping on cars.)
Pollinator-friendly flowers and shrubs will frame the garden and public courtyard area will have benches, trees and plantings.
Grants from the Rhode Island Foundation and Southern Rhode Island Conservation District helped cover the cost of the new garden. Donations also came from private individuals. Most of the materials were either donated by local businesses or sold at cost. Large pieces of granite that were discovered underneath the road during the Dixon Square culvert replacement project last year are being used at the garden as benches and as parts of a walkway in the courtyard. Alan Peck, Wilcox Park superintendent, and Lyman Goff, a land trust board member, helped with the design work.
"The Westerly Land Trust has an amazing group of loyal volunteers who maintain our properties, and the Community Garden is another such project. Volunteers contributed to the design, planning, and build-out of this garden, which will become a community asset,” said Sheilia Beattie, land trust board president.
The nonprofit organization's Coffee and Clearing Club, which usually focuses on working on the land trust's trails and open space parcels, built and installed the raised planters and a planting bench. Unlike many other land trusts, the Westerly Land Trust includes urban areas as part of its work.
"The urban piece of our mission sets us apart from a lot of other land trusts," Fusco said. "The idea of the Westerly Land Trust with all of our urban properties is to bring these places to their best and highest use."
In addition to providing a garden area for people who do not have yards, the garden will help with heat reverberation and will spruce up the downtown area, Fusco said. "When you think about Main Street as the gateway to the beach community ... the first thing people see as they come into town is our Main Street, which could use a facelift," she said.
In the future the land trust envisions construction of an entrance archway to the new garden. The land trust is also hopeful that other property owners will follow suit and help out by sprucing up their sections of Main Street, particularly by planting trees, Fusco said.
Theh opening ceremony is scheduled for Saturday at the garden at 2 p.m. The public is welcome and light refreshments will be available.
"I'm excited to see what will come up here," Fusco said.