Gardens and libraries


Last week I ordered a book titled “Libraries & Gardens: Growing together.” I think it should have been titled “Libraries and Gardens Growing Together if the Librarian Has a Green Thumb.” I ordered this book for a very special reason.

In case you haven’t noticed, our garden is shabby. The ivy is overtaking every other plant and the wall. Since the building was constructed, the Lewistown Garden Club maintained the garden. When they were no longer able to do this, the “Garden Gals” Betty Coldren and Linda Boss, as well as John Brittain, volunteered their time and tried to keep up with the maintenance. United Way Day of Caring volunteers pulled weeds and mulched. A Brownie troop came and spruced up the pollinator garden. County maintenance cut down a dead tree. They also tried to get rid of ground wasps, which are supposed to be gentle pollinators.

Yeah, right. Not!

We do appreciate everyone’s help and assistance to give us curb appeal. We just can’t keep ahead of this garden and despite my black thumb, what should be a beautiful and soothing place is an overgrown mess.

When I worked in Georgia, my friend Tom Ploeg was the building consultant for new library building projects. His constant directive to architects designing new library facilities was, “Landscaping only. No gardens.” But, building designers didn’t listen and would include these intricate gardens in their plans. They didn’t get the message until the plans were rejected several times, which cost them time and money. Finally, the gardens would be scaled back and the plans would be approved. In case you are wondering why Tom felt this way, reread the paragraph above.

Library staff simply do not have the time necessary to take care of a garden. If we are fortunate enough to have a community group who is willing to do this, there must be an understanding this is a looooooooooooooong term commitment, involving the entire group’s time and energy. If the group cannot sustain that obligation, the garden languishes and frankly becomes an eyesore that screams, “neglect.”

Of course, there are always exceptions. Should you, in your travels, visit Madison, Georgia, be sure to visit the headquarters library of the Uncle Remus Regional Library System. As an aside, Madison is the only town along the path of Sherman’s march to the sea that he didn’t burn, saying the town was too beautiful to destroy. Anyway, at that library there is a labyrinth “Briar Patch” garden, complete with Joel Chandler Harris’s beloved Uncle Remus, B’rer Rabbit, B’rer Bear, B’rer Fox, et.al. Yes, there are real briars patches too. It’s a delight to see and experience.

Large urban libraries have some beautiful rooftop gardens to relax and read. Others have community gardens and gardening programs for children and teens. Several libraries I have visited over the years have “living walls” and grow a variety of plants and herbs. These walls are spectacular to see and are often multi-storied.

Right here in our own region, Juniata County Library has a lovely relaxation garden. Named for the first librarian, Ruth Cramer Waters, it’s a lovely place to sit and read. I’ve also seen pictures of knitters plying their craft and enjoying the beautiful roses. The Friends of the Juniata County Library maintain the garden.

The National Library of Medicine’s Herb Garden showcases the healing power of nature at its very richest. It is maintained by the Montgomery County (Maryland) Master Gardener Association.

And, this is my segue into sharing some great news with you. The Penn State Master Gardeners of the Juniata Valley are going to transform the Library’s garden into a demonstration garden. What a win-win collaborative partnership for the community! They will spend the winter designing the space and begin work in the spring. Won’t it be exciting to watch the development of a “literary garden”? Gee, even my black thumb might turn a little green. Thank you Sara Buffington and the Master Gardeners for this opportunity.

Cicero said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” I’m not sure I agree, but this is going to happen at the Mifflin County Library.


Dr. Molly S. Kinney is the Director at the Mifflin County Library. She is currently reading One Was a Soldier (The Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries No. 7) by Julia Spencer-Fleming.


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