‘Guerilla gardeners’ turn Southampton’s Conant Park patch to vegetables

  • A begonia grows beside a sweet red pepper in a revamped garden at Conant Memorial Park in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Riley Cyr, 12, and her father, Joe Cyr, water their revamped garden Thursday at Conant Memorial Park. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joe Cyr waters the revamped garden Thursday at Conant Memorial Park in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joe Cyr and his daughter, Riley, 12, water the revamped garden Thursday at Conant Memorial Park in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Buttercup squash grows beside corn in the revamped garden. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Both flowers and a varierty of vegetables grow in the revamped garden at Conant Memorial Park in Southampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2020 6:56:23 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — For years, people driving by Conant Memorial Park on Route 10 have been greeted by colorful plantings of annual flowers.

“It’s a great visual — eye candy,” said Southampton Town Moderator Robert Floyd.

Now this long, strip garden along a split-rail fence has entered a new era, converted largely into food production by a group of “guerilla gardeners.” Floyd, for his part, couldn’t be happier.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s where we need to go.”

The tradition of planting annuals in the garden was started by former Southampton resident Teresa Barton. Laurie Chmura, Barton’s successor, said Barton tore out old rose bushes and began planting the flowers 20 years ago.

“Terry was very talented with the gardening,” Chmura said.

After Barton moved away, Chmura took over the garden for four years. Chmura is a member of the Southampton Woman’s Club, as was Barton, and each had a team of volunteers to maintain the garden, a number of whom were from the Woman’s Club as well.

This year, Chmura told Floyd that she wouldn’t be able to do the gardening, and asked him to look for volunteers.

“I was very nervous that I would drop it and not find volunteers,” Floyd said.

Floyd advertised the need in his town newsletter multiple times, af ter which Joe Cyr, Ellen Senghas and Wendy Touchette answered the call.

“He just connected us with each other,” Senghas said.

The decision was made to plant a Three Sisters garden, she said, which features corn, beans and squash and is based on a traditional Native American planting pattern.

Senghas said they adopted the identity of guerilla gardeners as a nod to the guerilla theater movement of the 1960s. She also said that she didn’t know either of her two fellow volunteers before they started gardening together.

“I’ve been thinking for a while that I wanted to get involved with volunteering,” Cyr said.

Cyr, Senghas and Touchette put the new garden in on the Sunday before the July 4 weekend, helped by Cyr’s two daughters, Kaelyn, 13, and Riley, 12.

“They participated fully,” Cyr said. “I can’t get them to do that in my garden.”

With five people tackling the work, it took an hour and a half to turn the strip into a vegetable garden, Senghas said, with the group following social distancing guidelines. Before the planting, the area was rototilled by Pete Frary.

The late start limited the options that they had for plantings, Cyr said. Pole beans, corn, sweet peppers, sunflowers, squash and cantaloupe were among what was planted.

They also planted begonias and other flowers, and Shiel Farm supplied a number of the plants.

After the planting, Cyr said, the volunteers realized that the water pump near the garden hadn’t been installed yet by the town.

“Thankfully mother nature cooperated with all that rain,” Cyr said.

On July 4, Cyr was watering the garden with a watering can when Randy Kemp, superintendent of the town’s highway department, informed him that the pump had now been installed.

Cyr said that the garden is “doing well,” an assessment that was shared by Senghas.

“We had a really good germination rate,” Senghas said.

She also said that the begonias are “cheery” and the “squash is coming up fast.”

Cyr said that they hadn’t figured out how they would distribute the food from the garden, although he said he’d like to provide it to the Southampton Community Cupboard.

“That’s my vote,” he said.


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