Those colorful and healthy-looking gardens one sees on the traffic islands and town property in Farmington don’t start out that way. 

After the snow melts, Emily O’Donnell, who does seasonal maintenance for the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, rejuvenates them.

She starts by refreshing the soil and picking out the cigarette butts and any trash that may have ended up there over the winter. 

Before long she has flowers of all colors blooming and lush green plants and bushes growing — brightening the areas and welcoming people to town. They seem to grow prettier through the summer and early fall. Then O’Donnell puts them to bed and prepares them for winter, only to repeat the process in the coming spring.

Name: Emily O’Donnell

Town: Farmington

Age: 59

Job: Seasonal maintenance for the Farmington Parks and Recreation Department

What got you interested in flowers, plants and bushes? I have always enjoyed the outdoors and nature, but my real love for gardening began when I started helping with yard work around my parents’ home. I loved mowing lawns, planting flowers and tending the vegetable gardens.

How did you learn to take care of flowers and plants? Some of my experience came from all the yard work I did, but attending college and studying ornamental horticulture increased my knowledge of plant material and its use in the landscape. I studied landscape design, floral design, propagation and plant identification. I eventually worked at a nursery where I made bonsai, propagated and transplanted nursery stock.

What do you find is the best part of taking care of Farmington’s perennial gardens? There are a number of reasons why I like this job. First of all, people really seem to enjoy the gardens and I am humbled by the many compliments I receive. Second, I really enjoy seeing the gardens transform and transition through the seasons. Finally, I have great flexibility with this job and I work with great people, which is worth a lot.

What is your secret to keeping them looking good throughout the season? The secret is no secret. It boils down to consistently maintaining them. There is always weeding, pruning, edging, watering and fertilizing to do. You can’t keep a garden looking good by starting out gung-ho and ending up ho-hum.

When do you put the plants to bed? Roughly around the time of frost, give or take. While fall bloomers may still be hanging on, I begin to cut down the perennials and pull up the annuals. I like to clean up what debris I can and pull up any weeds that may remain. It doesn’t hurt to top-dress with a layer of compost to start out the next season with a clean slate.

What tips would you give to beginner gardeners? Start small. Everyone has big dreams when they get their seed and plant catalogs, or visit their local nursery, but be realistic about what you can and will take care of. Study and observe plants in the landscape. What look are you aiming for? Before you start, make a plan and prepare the soil by removing all weeds and sod. Make a clean edge. It really improves the look of your bed. Amend your soil with compost and refresh it every year. Keep moisture consistent throughout the growing season. Consistent weeding throughout the growing season is a must; not only does it look better but it prevents the weeds from taking hold. Enjoy it. You are much more likely to take care of it if you take the time to enjoy it.

Is there a schedule to preparing for a season and ending a season? The schedule for preparing for a season is to have a rough idea of what you want your garden to look like. What do you want to add? What do you want to delete? Don’t be afraid of ripping everything out and starting over. Timing is dependent upon the weather of course, but when the weather finally permits, clean up any plant debris and weeds. Ending a season is pretty much the same.

[email protected]

Emily O’Donnell of Farmington maintains the town of Farmington’s flower beds and gardens. (Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal)

Emily O’Donnell of Farmington is shown here in April beginning the gardening process on a traffic island at the intersection of Wilton Road and Bridge and Water streets in Farmington. (Sun Journal file photo)

filed under: