Laurel Ave Community Garden’s Peg Johnston 4-2020

Laurel Ave Community Garden’s Peg Johnston

Laurel Ave Community Garden

If you have ever been out walking on the West Side of Binghamton, just past Rec Park, you may have noticed the VINES Laurel Ave Community Garden.  Located at 128 Laurel Avenue, the site was developed in 2009 by VINES in partnership with the Binghamton University PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Scholars.  Originally constructed with ten garden beds for neighbors to grow fresh produce for their families, the garden has grown to hold 22 beds where individuals and families from the neighborhood grow food together. “There’s a pretty wide range of gardeners at Laurel,” says Peg Johnston, one of the site coordinators at the garden. “There’s some older gardeners and there’s always a lot of younger people who might be starting out or have gardened since they were kids.  It varies, but it’s a pretty decent mix.”

Peg says that even with the COVID-19 restrictions, orientations have been held for gardeners, though they are modified for safe distancing. Gardeners are still there, asking each other for advice, exchanging seeds and stories, and working together.

While Peg wasn’t the original site coordinator at Laurel Garden she has been gardening there since the beginning. “Helping people have successful gardens is the main motivation,” she said when asked what she enjoyed about being a site coordinator.  “Organizing is a hobby, or habit, for me so it comes easily to me and I enjoy it.” When gardeners are discouraged, she shares her own stories of setbacks and comebacks as well as advice on how to keep going.  When she doesn’t know an answer to a question, she finds someone who does.

When new gardeners come to Laurel Ave Community Garden there’s an important piece of advice that Peg shares. “Gardens have to be tended,” she tells them. “We all have some experience of a grandfather or grandmother who made the most beautiful vegetables. That’s because every day they went and watered them and they pinched things back, and talked to their plants. They tended their garden. It’s not a one off thing where you can throw some seeds in and forget about it. You’ve got to tend things. I think that seems difficult in our age but it’s really a habit that is very sustaining. When you’re in the garden for even twenty minutes or so, your blood pressure goes down and you’re focusing on nature and something really wonderful happens.”

Her final words of advice? “Get digging!”