Growing Together

Downtown residents are digging this gardening endeavor

Wilmington’s Downtown Community Garden has a very down-to-earth name.

It’s downtown, the northwest corner of Fourth and Orange streets, to be exact.

It’s a garden, with 22 raised beds, all rented for $25 for the season, planted mostly with vegetables, fruits and herbs, but also pretty with flowers. And it’s a community, in several ways.

Renee Rose during a Saturday morning garden cleanup. Photo by Lindsay duPhily.

“Everybody pitches in,” said Paige Morgan, who moved to Delaware in 2019 and started growing food in the garden the next year.

“Because of the pandemic, we came together as a true community garden,” said Mark Fields, who was one of the founding gardeners in 2016, when it was in the 400 block of N. Market St. “We know each other and get together” to work on the garden.

And for Aleama Esdaile, the community is both her fellow gardeners and her family. She has bonded more with her son and daughter at the garden. “We need it,” she said. “We need more.”

The Delaware Center for Horticulture supports more than 40 community gardens throughout New Castle County. The downtown garden draws people who live and work nearby.

After a fire displaced the Market Street garden, the green thumbs moved to the current location, which for a century housed Gross Lighting Center. The city obtained the property in 2018, and with the assistance of former owner Phil Gross and the Downtown Civic Association, it became a garden.

Gardeners give sweat equity. Fields said it’s also supported by a New Castle County Conservation District grant; Downtown Visions, acting as fiscal agent and “champions since the very beginning,” he said; and Harry Wolkind of neighboring Rave Realty, providing water (and renting a plot). Frames for the raised beds were upgraded this year by Eco Plastic Products of Delaware, which recycles plastics.

Esdaile, who grew in Wilmington, had never gardened before but was very curious when she was walking by. She said that she was welcomed in 2018 by the other gardeners and is now committed enough to be on the management committee. “I hold it near and dear to my heart,” she said. She’s grown corn, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, flowers “and a whole lot of herbs.”

“I like digging in the dirt,” Morgan said. “There’s something satisfying about planting, weeding and pruning.” She’s grown tomatoes, peas, lettuce and herbs. “So handy to run over and grab some herbs.”

Even though she grew up in rural Washington with a large garden, Morgan has learned from the Delaware Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program how neem oil controls pests and why you shouldn’t water midday (droplets can magnify sunshine into rays that can burn the plants).

“We’re part of a growing trend of people who live in the city and still want to grow food,” Fields said.

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