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Garden Variety: Green Thumbs Up At Boyce

For more than three decades, the community gardens at the edge of Boyce Mayview Park have served as fertile ground for vegetable growers.

The list seems like a bunch of stuff your typical youngster would avoid.

"Asparagus, beans, brocolli, sweet peas, green beans and ..." Wilson Henderson paused to think before adding, "squash."

He actually was naming vegetables he enjoys eating, especially when they're from the plot of crops tended by his mother and her friend at Boyce Gardens.

"They'll come out here and just pick something out of the garden and start eating it," said Paula Henderson, joined this particular morning by her two other children, Carly and Bennett, along with fellow gardener Dena Wirth and her daughter, Lexie.

The two Upper St. Clair women have been planting and harvesting for eight years on the 40-acre site at Morton and Boyce roads, on the edge of Boyce Mayview Park. For more than three decades, the expansive gardening area has hosted small-scale farming for members of the community who want to give their green thumbs a try.

Friends through their church, Paula and Dena gardened their own individual plots in the past but teamed up this year, explaining the combined effort comes in handy when one or the other goes on vacation. The alternative: invasion of the weeds.

"Poor Mel over here," Paula said, pointing to a neighboring plot gardened by a gentleman who was taking a brief leave of absence. "When he comes back, he'll be busy for a week!"

The ladies have gotten to know plenty of fellow gardeners, including the longtime Boyce Gardens fixture whose former plot they now work.

Dolores Hoover – everyone knew her as Dolly – died June 2 at age 85. The Mt. Lebanon resident served a lengthy stint as president of the Boyce Road Gardeners, a position now held by Jerry Kender of Upper St. Clair.

It's Jerry's job to assign plots throughout the gardens to those who sign up, and those who provide the $20 annual fee. The payment, he said, guarantees that those who really want to garden have the opportunity to do so.

"Every year, I usually have at least eight to 10 plots available where the gardeners didn't return for some reason or another," said Jerry, whose wife, Phyllis, is secretary-treasurer for the nonprofit group. "People who want to garden can contact us and get on the list, I'll assign them a plot."

Gardeners normally return to the same plot, unless they request a change of venue, as Paula and Dena did. Now they're right next to the gardens' parking lot, which comes in handy: When the precipitation isn't sufficient, everyone has to haul his or her own water.

The fees go partially toward prepping the plots for the growing season.

"We plow the gardens in early April, and then we measure it off and hopefully have it available by April 15 for people who want to plant some of the cold crops, like potatoes or onions," Jerry explained. "Other people wait until the middle of May to plant their tomatoes and start planting some of the other things that with a frost could destroy."

The gardeners take a great deal of pride in their growing abilities, and they like to share their bounty with one another. At the end of each season – this year, it's Aug. 18 – they gather for a garden fair, complete with judging. That goes for the youngsters, too: A kids' table allows them to show off the fruits (vegetables!) of their own labors.

The gardeners also share their bounty with the community. Twice a week, Jerry takes extra crops to the St. Winifred Food Pantry, which unfortunately serves a growing number of families throughout the South Hills.

"The people are very appreciative, and during thee last four or five years, it's amazing how many people are using the food bank," Jerry said. "It increases every year by about a hundred families."

Meanwhile, many of the Boyce Road Gardeners are glad to add to their own tables, especially if it encourages early habits of healthy eating. And gardening as a family activity is a big plus for parents like Paula and Dena, and their children.

"We're hoping that, in the back of their heads, they'll always remember that this was part of summer," Dena said.

For more information about the Boyce Road Gardeners, call Jerry and Phyllis Kender at 412-221-3118.

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