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A Garden is a Place to Garden

Posted on Friday, April 5, 2013

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. - Is the word garden a noun or a verb?  At the Westminster College Field Station it is both - a place and an activity.  A place where plants are nurtured and an activity engaged in by folks who till the soil and benefit from the fruit of their labor. 

When the concept of the Field Station was hatched 33 years ago in 1980, one of the points of justification in the proposal to Westminster's administration and trustees was "to provide space for members of the college [and] community to plant garden plots." Two years ago several leaders of the Bear Tree Connections, an environmental club for children, asked about cultivating and planting a plot near the Weather Station as a children's garden.  Even ahead of this push for a garden, some college classes in biology and art were cultivating plants for study and research. These college and community ventures were the beginning of "our garden in which people of the soil can garden!"

We are now moving a quantum leap beyond that early vision and recent activity.  We are at the beginning of launching the Margaret "Meg" Rankin Memorial Garden and Nursery as a half-acre, fenced in area that will perpetuate three objectives:  provide adequate space for faculty and students to grow plants for classes and research; give children and adults of the community the opportunity to garden and play in nature; and grow seedling trees for transplanting at the Field Station and on the main campus of Westminster.  The anticipation of these goals is bittersweet.  Like the Sandy Edmiston Memorial Labyrinth, this Memorial Garden and Nursery is the aftermath of a life well-lived but oh, too short. 

Meg Rankin, whom this Garden and Nursery memorializes, graduated from Westminster College in 1986, spent several years working with troubled youth in an outdoor enrichment program and became an elementary school teacher in Rhode Island.  Her classes were filled with the out-of-doors.  Meg was energetic, talented, committed and adventurous.  Her life outside the classroom took on travel to exotic and sensitive environmental spots like the tropical rainforests and coral reefs.  She always brought those experiences back to her classroom and made fourth-grade science exciting with her stories and photos. 

She also worked her garden in Cranston, Rhode Island as a special place, perhaps a place the Celtics would call a "thin place" -- where heaven and earth nearly touched!  Meg's life was not simple.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer and for over 10 years valiantly fought to conquer the "Big C."  But on April 18, 2010, she died leaving so much yet to be done - in her garden, classroom and life. 

The Memorial Garden and Nursery is an attempt to complete some of the good things that Meg would have accomplished had her life on earth continued.  Her family has established and funded this project that will extend Meg's life in a way that influences children and helps all who wish to nurture the good earth.  Those of us who knew Meg anticipate this will be a thin place, where heaven nearly touches soil, earth and people!

The summer of 2013 will continue the fledgling community garden at the Field Station much as it was for the past two years.  But more important, this coming year will complete the surveying, fencing, tilling and marking of the half acre plot so that a year hence the full-fledged Garden and Nursery will be in operation.  

Spring and summer 2014 are going to be big!  Those planning the Memorial Garden and Nursery welcome college and community folk interested in participating by gardening and by offering help with physical labor.  Contacts are:  Clarence Harms 724-946-6001 or email and Dr.  Ann Throckmorton 724-946-7209 or email.

Our belief is that gardening enhances human quality, stimulates human sensitivity and benefits the health of individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities.

Clarence Harms, Director
Field Station