“Take a Plant, Leaf a Plant” encourages propagation and plant exchange

Cloverdale gardeners and plant lovers have a new way to connect with one another — a bright pink shelf with the words “take a plant, leaf a plant” has been set up at the Cloverdale Community Garden. 

Modeled after the same concept as a Little Free Library, the shelf is a standing plant exchange for community members, where people can bring things from their garden — propagating succulents, tomato plants and the like — to exchange.

“I thought it was a fun idea,” said Cindi Buell, president of the Green Thumb Garden Club and one of the people working to better the community garden. “The community garden is to help people get to know each other and form a sense of wellbeing and interest in the community and gardening. I just thought it was another way to reach out to the community to do that. Especially now with the COVID virus, I think people really need an outlet to get out there and do something happy.”

Buell’s husband Pat helped paint and put more shelves in a house-shaped shelving unit, and the “Take a Plant, Leaf a Plant” station was born. It sits at the southern side of the garden, just inside of the garden fence. 

Buell said that, while the garden club has around 50 members, she knows there are other people in the community who are interested in gardening.

“We have this endless supply of plants, so I thought this would be a fun thing,” she said. “I know a lot of people locally who aren’t in the garden club (who) enjoy propagating succulents and different kinds of plants.”

The plant trading station is the most recent in a list of additions and developments to the garden in recent months. At the end of last year, they put in groupings of picnic benches and garden volunteers are working on building up a variety of different, smaller gardens in the space. They’ve also added numerous birdhouses to the space.

While the community garden has three plots being used by community members, most of the garden is being maintained by the garden club and community members as a whole.

“We’re trying to raise food for the community,” Buell said. “When we begin to harvest … we’ve got a bunch of tomatoes and squash and we’re working on getting an herb garden together. We plan to give the produce to the food pantry and the senior center, and we do have a few people who have started their own individual plots for their own use.”

She said that, in exchange for being able to use space for their own plots, they ask that people volunteer a few hours a month to help with the overall garden upkeep. The extensive volunteer hours being put into the garden are all working toward the goal of making it more of a community gathering space — a place where, once they’re able, the club and other groups can use it as a place to help educate people about growing and using plants and produce. 

“We had a group of kids that were going to come work in the garden, and that went away. Some of our goals have gone by the wayside, but we also on the other hand have gotten a lot of response from community people who want to come and help out,” Buell said. 

Though the garden has been part of the community for 10 years, its recent rejuvenation comes after a brief period of reorganization, where the insurance and water bill duties had to be sorted. Eventually, the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce stepped in to say that it would help facilitate and pay for part of the expenses.

This year, the chamber’s COVID-related budgetary shortfall during its final quarter resulted in the garden receiving less funding than planned. 

When asked about the chamber’s contribution, the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors President Ron Pavelka said that the chamber’s increased expenses and decreased revenue during its fourth quarter meant that it wasn’t able to “completely fund some of the ongoing needs of the garden.”

“Everything we’re doing right now is based on a very low budget because the Chamber of Commerce was backing us and really helping us out with donations. With all of the businesses shuttered now, they have no money coming in. Our financial support was cut off. The garden club is a nonprofit organization, so they’ve helped out a lot with helping to buy plants and put a watering system in,” Buell said.

Pavelka said that the garden club has donated a fair amount of money to the community garden, and that the city provided the garden with a one-time $1,000 grant to help cover some costs. He said him and his wife Jane also personally donated money to help get benches for the space.

Since the garden is still developing, some of the more substantial expenses are difficult to predict.

“Our biggest expense for the garden is water, and that varies greatly obviously depending on the season, the amount of plants, and the heat index,” he said. “That’s really a moving target, there’s not really a base — each day, each week, each month we continue to grow the size of the garden for good reason.

“Cindi Buell and her husband Pat really have been the driving force in rejuvenating the garden. Programs like that (the ‘Take a Plant, Leaf a Plant’ shelf) are 100% her and Pat and the gardening group,” Pavelka said. “Mike Boehm, Advanced Earthworks, Todd Lands and Todd Lands Construction have done a lot of work for the garden and donated equipment. Really, Cindi and Pat have been the driving force to making this happen.” 

Buell said that she’s looking forward to seeing how the community garden grows in the coming months, and is looking forward to when they can invite kids, seniors and more to come to the garden for events.

“I’m happy to see all the help we’ve gotten from the community and people showing up on weekend mornings to help out,” she said. “It’s just been really a nice thing to see instead.” 

Since it was put up last weekend, Buell said she hasn’t seen very many people leaving plants, though some folks have taken them.

“Yesterday I brought down a bunch of squash babies,” she said in an interview on Tuesday, June 30. “I’ve had a bunch of people on Facebook saying, ‘Hey, let’s do this!’ I’m thinking we’re going to get other people propagating some plants and putting them out too. I’m hopeful that it will evolve.” 

She reiterated that she’s hoping the shelf, and the garden as a whole, will both grow after the pandemic allows it to, and is able to become a haven for people during the pandemic.

“People are definitely looking for ways to escape the walls of their house and help out in the garden,” she said.

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