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Slayton: State House Gardens

10/14/10 5:55PM By Tom Slayton
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(HOST)  This past summer, an effort was made to update the State House gardens.  It was a project that commentator Tom Slayton enjoyed watching.  

(SLAYTON) Until recently the gardens at the Vermont State House had a single, simple purpose - to formally ornament the entrance way to Vermont’s most important building.

Lately, however, some new gardens have been added, gardens with a deeper and more interesting vision.

The first of those new gardens is pretty obvious - it’s two curved beds of vegetables located on either side of the steps that lead up to the State House. Before last year, those two curved beds had contained summer flowers. Now they’re sporting vegetables - cabbages, kale, squash, lettuce, and more.

Why vegetables? Because of a local group that calls themselves the "Apple Corps" - that’s "corps" spelled with a PS. The group has a mission - creating what they call edible public landscapes. They volunteered to plant the first vegetables on the State House lawn last year, to inspire Vermonters to become more self-sufficient by growing more of their own food.

"We wanted people to know that you can transform a lawn into a vegetable garden," said Carrie Abels of Montpelier. "If we can grow more of our own food, Vermont can be on the way to greater self-sufficiency." Apple Corps members felt that the State House lawn was the perfect place to make that point.

At first State House curator David Schutz, was skeptical, but the enthusiasm and idealism of the Apple Corps people helped change his mind. And First Lady Michelle Obama had already, shall we say, broken ground on the issue by planting a vegetable garden at the White House.

And so Vermont became the first state Capitol in the nation to grow vegetables on its front lawn.

A nice plus is the fact that the amazing amount of vegetables produced by the two State House plots - 286 pounds last year - is donated to the Montpelier Food Shelf. That’s a lot of tasty, fresh vegetables for people who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

Meanwhile, in back of the State House, a flower garden that had become overrun with weeds is being cleaned out by volunteers and redesigned in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy as a showcase for native Vermont plants.  A typical Vermont plantscape with maple trees, native ferns, wildflowers and herbs will be growing there by next summer. Curator David Schutz hopes the garden can be named after former U.S. Senator George D. Aiken, who was a horticulturist and whose book, Pioneering with Wildflowers, helped establish the new garden.

Both these new gardens send good unstated messages. The vegetable gardens out front link to our farming tradition and encourage that very traditional Vermont value, local self-sufficiency. And the native plant gardens quietly affirm the affection Vermonters have long held for our forests, natural landscapes, and native plants.

Gardens are living ideas, and these are good ideas - food, grown from available public earth, and recognition of some less obvious botanical members of our Vermont community of beings. They are, in short, ideas worth growing.
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