Wendell O Ward (a longtime Frogtowner known to his fans as “WOW”) is generally a happy guy. But this year a little patch of dirt, just about 40 feet square, has made him even happier. 2023 was Wendell’s first year planting a a garden at Frogtown Green’s Our Village Garden, but – according to WOW – it will not be his last.
“My garden is growing beautifully!” he exults. “I’m chopping and freezing this growing season, and there will be zero waste this harvest! I even grew potatoes this season. They grew so fast, I was expecting it to take longer!” Wendell proudly displayed his first harvest on Facebook in early August, and has continued to harvest more greens, potatoes and tomatoes.
This year, Wendell joined 39 other Our Village gardeners, planting in one of the 12 year-old community garden’s 40 raised beds. He focused on vegetables, like most of the gardeners at Our Village. By late August, beds were filled with ripening okra, tomatoes and peppers, corn, melons and a few flowers.
Residents of the townhouses and apartment building adjacent to the garden are the primary users of Our Village, with other coming from nearby Frogtown homes and apartments. Each garden plot is a 4’x10’ raised bed. Gardening tools and water are provided by Frogtown Green, with support from the Banbro company, which owns the land, and supports Frogtown Green’s coordination and maintenance work. Garden beds are assigned in spring on a first-come basis, and seeds and starter plants are available for gardeners while supplies last. Gardeners agree to maintain a bed throughout the season. There is no charge to participate. Frogtown residents get first priority, says site manager Chris Stevens.
Stevens helps maintain Our Village’s urban orchard of fruit trees, native pollinator plantings and places to relax, including a wisteria-clad pergola, and an entrance garden and archway covered with clematis vines. The space is a far cry from the barren, flat ground at the corner of Pierce Butler Route and Milton Street, where the first raised beds were built in 2011. Back then, the space was the site of a former landfill, remediated by the St Paul Port Authority. Gradually, Frogtown Green members and volunteers added trees, flowerbeds and structures that have made the garden both beautiful and productive.
Veteran gardener and volunteer Kathy Donovan remembers the barren patch and revels in its transformation. Although she is no longer able to garden due to allergies, Kathy remains vitally interested in the space. She has contributed irises from her mother’s gardens for the perennial beds, and helps with social events for the gardeners, including an annual cherry pie feast with cherries harvested from the garden’s trees. She has participated long enough to see the garden undergo its first “remodeling.”
This year, after more than a decade of hard use, the first raised beds were showing their age. Our Village’s site manager, Chris Stevens, rebuilt those beds by hand this past spring, using boards that he first charred with a flame-thrower, to remove excess moisture and reduce rotting. This method of wood preservation, called shou sugi ban, is a traditional Japanese technique for waterproofing wood. The wood surface is carefully charred until it turns black, rendering it weatherproof and distinctively attractive.
Next spring, Stevens will be using another technique that originated in Japan to expand the parameters of Our Village. Our Village will be home to St. Paul’s first “mini-forest,” a new project supported by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. According to the New York Times, the mini-forest is “part of a sweeping movement that is transforming duty highway shoulders, parking lots, schoolyards and junkyards worldwide.” Basically an intensively planted thicket of native trees, the mini-forest will enhance habitat for native birds and pollinators, while eventually providing a noise and dust barrier from busy Pierce Butler Route.
WOW, for one, will be back next spring to observe the mini-forest planting – and to claim his vegetable bed again. “I can’t wait!” he says. Meanwhile, there are just a few more potatoes to harvest.
Frogtown Green is a volunteer-powered initiative to build green beauty in the Frogtown neighborhood. We plant trees, cultivate gardens and work toward a healthier environment. If you’d like to know more, our website is frogtowngreen.com and our phone is 651-757-5970.