Gardening classes draw crowd

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LEWISTON — As she left “My Weedless Garden” Saturday, a workshop held in a large lecture hall that attracted 100 people, Nancy Curtis noticed how interest in gardening is growing.

“People see it as a way to save money,” said Curtis, who’s been gardening for close to 50 years. “There’s a real move to eat locally. There’s nothing more local than the backyard.”

Curtis was among the 360 participants at Maine Garden Day at Lewiston High School, where the University of Maine Cooperative Extension offered dozens of workshops on topics such as pickling, growing sweet potatoes and building healthy soil.

“Interest is through the roof,” said event coordinator Barbara Murphy.

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She attributed that to the economy and consumers looking to save money. “And there’s the whole food security issue. If you grow it, you know where it came from.”

Diane York of Bryant Pond took a garden photography class. Photographs can help you remember what went well, and what didn’t, in the garden, she said. And sometimes garden pictures are good art.

At Walton Elementary School in Auburn, volunteers turned out to build a large school garden.

The school community secured $6,000 in grants to build the garden, $5,000 from Lowe’s and $1,000 from the L-A Children’s Fund, organizer Diana Carson said. She is a parent, a veteran gardener and a former teacher.

There has been much enthusiasm from parents, teachers and students, she said. More than 400 people will work in the garden, which will measure 75×75 feet. It will be in front of the school and will be highly visible, Carson said. “It will be an attraction.”

Produce will be used by the school. For some students, fruit and vegetables they get at school is the only fresh fruit they get, Carson said. The garden will also have herbs, flowers, apple trees and 20 blueberry bushes.

Each grade will get its own bed, Carson said.

In addition to growing produce, the garden will generate hands-on Earth science lessons.

“The goal is to integrate what students are learning in the classroom in the garden setting,” Carson said. Some don’t know that carrots grow beneath the ground, or that pears grow on trees. “They see produce at the supermarket wrapped in plastic and don’t have a connection.”

Parents and teachers who haven’t gardened before are a little worried about crop failure, Carson said. “But there’s lessons to be learned in that, too.”

Students are excited to do their part environmentally by planting, she said. “That whole culture is coming back to the idea of eating more locally and supporting farmers nearby.”

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