Just a couple of months after opening to the public, the Newton County Community Garden is blooming into the beautiful manifestation envisioned by all involved.
And the secret to its success is not in its soil or Miracle-Gro. It comes from the faithful volunteer gardener who tends to the community crops everyday.
Kerry Landress, an avid gardener and volunteer, visits the garden daily at noon and eight in the evening to water the garden, pulling weeds and doing anything else a plot owner might need. He helped install brand new hoses for the garden last weekend.
"Kerry is our number one volunteer," said Arline Chapman, post 3 city councilwoman. "Kerry joined us at the outset and got his own garden plot and has really been an active member. Kerry is a member of our garden club that keeps the place organized and he’s just been a wonderful volunteer. He’s come out here and done a lot of odd jobs for us in the past, and we appreciate his support and efforts."
"Some people don‘t have the time to water the plants until the weekend, so I just make sure that everything is watered in this garden throughout the week," Landress said. "I water them once a day, at about 8 o’clock at night, when it’s a little bit cooler. Some people don’t want any help and want to do it themselves, so I don’t touch them at all."
Landress has been gardening for most of his life, helping his father on the farm for over 12 years. Chapman sponsored Landress so he could have his own plot, on which he is proudly growing hot peppers, tomatoes, bell peppers, squash and banana peppers.
"My daddy told me I had to till a garden 150 feet long and six feet wide so he could start planting," Landress explained. "He told me the old tiller was going to beat me to death and it did — it took me all day to get it done. I helped him plant, water and pull weeds — everything that I’m doing now."
The Newton County Community Garden was the result of a full scale community effort from nonprofit organizations like Newton Master Gardeners, Hands on Newton, Newton County Collaborative Project and the city of Porterdale. Hands on Newton’s third annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service celebration helped get the garden started with over a 100 volunteers that came from Atlanta, Conyers, Newton County, local elementary and high schools, Oxford College, Newton Master Gardeners, the Newton County Extension Office and the Washington Street Community Center. Nyloboard, who specializes in producing building material recycled from carpet fibers, donated boards for bedding frames. Home Depot and Bonnie Farms donated more than 1,500 plants to start.
"It all just came together as soon as Porterdale rolled out the red carpet for us," said Helen Weitcamp, co-chair of the garden. "We had all of these volunteers that helped put the frames together, donated the soil and basically put the whole garden together."
For just $25 a year, a space can be purchased to plant in. Those interested who cannot afford the annual fee may apply in Porterdale’s City Hall where scholarships are available. All that is grown in the garden that doesn’t go to feed the family will be donated to Porterdale Cares who will distribute them to the elderly and needy.
For Landress, he hopes to get up to six plots next year to enlarge his own garden.
"I love this, this community gardening," Landress said. "I’m just in it to see these flourish, knowing that I participated in this community effort with our garden club. There’s no money involved in this for me. Some people will tip me, but it’s just not about the money. I just love doing things for people. It gives me satisfaction that I’m helping other people take care of their garden. You know, I’m 55 years old. I did nothing before this, so this is my chance to show people what I can do."