Two certified master gardeners are applying their green thumbs to a garden outside of the public library in Carbondale.
Janelle Zigon, 64, and Ann Marie Warren, 72, are both master gardeners with the Penn State Extension Master Gardener Program.
Their hard work — and the help of a small army of volunteers — has transformed the spaces surrounding the building at 5 N. Main Avenue into plant-filled paradises. Their goal, however, isn’t just a pretty garden.
They want the land surrounding the library to be certified as a pollinator garden — a garden mostly made up of native plants that attract insects to enhance the natural environment.
“The garden was already established, but it needed attention,” Zigon said. “We decided to revamp the garden so the whole property could be certified as a pollinator garden.”
To fulfill this requirement, the two women must acquire a certain number of native plants, some that attract certain native insects, some that grow in specific seasons so that the garden is always in bloom, and a water source, such as a birdbath or a fountain.
One such native plant in the garden is milkweed, which is a host to monarch butterflies. Monarchs were recently put on the endangered species list.
This process also includes removing invasive plants that could hinder its effectiveness as a pollinator garden. One such plant is vinca. Although it is pretty, it needs to be removed so the native plants can thrive, the gardeners said.
Focusing on planting a pollinator garden also means less work in the future. Originally, the garden on the side of the building was overgrown and covered in weeds, the gardeners said.
“One of our goals is to fill up the side with native plants so it will require less maintenance,” Zigon said.
In addition, they installed a brand-new rain barrel from the Master Watershed Steward program on the side of the building. This barrel, connected to a rain pipe from the gutters, stores rainwater that can be used to water the plants in the garden. Any excess water flows into a downspout planter donated by the Lackawanna River Conservation Association.
The progress on this garden could not have been achieved without volunteer help, they said. Volunteers include other library board members, other master gardeners from the local area and even the Carbondale High School football team, who volunteered to spread heavy mulch.
Zigon and Warren’s motivations behind this garden project are not just for aesthetic: their goal is to use their gardening skills to educate the local community on nature and gardening practices.
“I think it’s important to let the community know,” Warren says. “A lot of them don’t even know what a pollination garden is.”
Both Zigon and Warren have a history with the Carbondale Public Library. Warren has visited the library since she was a child and has served on the library board for five years. Zigon, a good friend of Warren’s, joined the board at Warren’s recommendation two years ago, though she has been working on the library garden for four years.
Zigon has been gardening all of her adult life, but she really gained an interest in her 20s when she first got her own home. Warren’s love of gardening started in her 50s as a way to keep herself occupied.
The new pollinator garden isn’t the only thing growing at the Carbondale Public Library. One of the librarians launched a seed library, which occupies a shelf inside the library. Unlike books, which must be brought back, this particular library invites patrons to take a few seeds to plant in their own garden or leave seeds from their plants so others can grow them.
In addition, Stephanie Spaid, youth services manager in the children’s division at the Carbondale Public Library, began a separate gardening project with the local kids in the Library Littles program. Each toddler in the program picked out a seedling, dug a hole and planted it in the Child’s Garden right next to the pollinator garden.
The two master gardeners, and their devotion to this public garden, continue to strive to educate the community on native plants and the ways to take care of one’s own garden.
To maintain their status as master gardeners, the two women must volunteer for 20 service hours and 10 educational hours per year. Working on the library garden has provided more than enough to satisfy those requirements.
“Our goal as master gardeners is to educate people on healthy gardening practices,” Zigon said.
For more information about the Master Gardener program, visit extension.psu.edu/programs/master-gardener.