For the week of May 5, 1999  thru May 11, 1999  

Gimlet’s oasis

Planting is underway at the Sawtooth Community Garden Project

Express Staff Writer

Sawtooth Community Garden Project garden manager Marie Mohler will be planting a showcase ornamental garden this summer.

It may look weedy and scraggly now, but the five acres of gardens in the Sawtooth Community Garden Project are just waiting to be turned into a botanical marvel.

"To me, it all looks kind of graceful," said project director Tom Blanchard, whose plots lie along Highway 75 near Gimlet Road.

Blanchard expects that the soil, once part of a heavily grazed and damaged sheep trail, will soon be growing plants that reflect the botanical diversity of the entire Wood River Valley.

"Our long-term goal is to be able to demonstrate the botanical world that makes up the Wood River watershed," he said.

It was only three years ago that serious planting began. Before that, a road, an educational center, a greenhouse and solar meeting room, a creek and a caretaker building were development priorities for the non-profit community garden project.

Now, Blanchard, who returned last week from visits to botanical gardens in Vail, Denver and Tucson, hopes to focus on developing a world-class collection of plants.

"Looking at the master plans of the other gardens and what they’ve been able to do over 10 years has given us some mile-markers," Blanchard said.

Native and native-compatible, drought-tolerant flowers, grasses and herbs will soon transform the now colorless site into a beautiful oasis.

"We want to identify what’s out there," Blanchard said with a gesture to the hills, "And start bringing it back in here."

To do that, Blanchard and garden manager Marie Mohler will try to find systems in the backcountry that reflect the same exposure that is found in the valley.

Sagebrush is an important component of that system, but probably didn’t dominate as it does now.

"My bet is that there was greater diversity," Blanchard said. "We’ve lost a lot of the grasses and some of the small flowers."

If Blanchard has his way, many of those grasses and flowers will be cropping up in the gardens this summer.

"Understanding what’s going on botanically in my environment makes me feel at home," Blanchard said. "If I walk out there, and I don’t recognize the plants and trees, it’s like being a foreigner.

"We all need to be a little bit more aware of what’s going on out there. We’re having an enormous impact. If we don’t pay attention to that, we lose it."

While achieving that diverse botanical collection is a long-term goal, the community garden project already hit a major mile marker when it brought the community-supported-agriculture (CSA) program to the valley. Every week from May through December, shareholders of CSA pick up regionally and organically grown foods.

Over twenty organic farmers scattered throughout the Magic Valley, Hagerman, and Camas and Blaine counties pick their produce—everything from garlic to kohlrabe—on Tuesday morning and deliver it to the gardens on Tuesday afternoon.

Last year, 210 local families participated in CSA.

"The concept is to reconnect people with a practice we’ve been involved in for thousands of years," Blanchard said. "It’s only been in the last hundred years that we’ve really significantly detached ourselves from agriculture."


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