‘Adopt-a-plotters’ keep Cape Elizabeth park gardens green

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Maintaining the beauty of Fort Williams Park is no small task. It takes the dedication of town staff, the courtesy of visitors and the generosity of many volunteers.

When it comes to the park’s 70-80 garden plots, it takes upwards of 50 people.

These volunteers, along with two seasonal part-time landscape gardeners, Alex Donka and Allysun West, participate in the  park’s Adopt-A-Plot program. The intent, coordinator Tom Atwell said, is to keep the gardens free of invasive plants, such as bittersweet and Japanese knotweed.

Adopt-A-Plot began in 2013 with a couple of volunteers and members of the Fort Williams Park Foundation replenishing areas of the park with native vegetation. Since then it has evolved to become a consistent group of “adopt-a-plotters” who come back spring after spring to make the plots summer-ready.

Philip Villandry lives in town and comes to the park two or three times a week. He started volunteering this year, saying it’s a great way to spend his free time and get outdoors.

His plots are in the Children’s Garden.

“That’s a large plot and there’s really a lot that needs to be done there,” he said. “But it’s not too hard and I can spend a few hours there and get quite a bit done.”

Jessica Simpson, also of Cape Elizabeth, has been gardening in the park for about four years. She and other volunteers usually start raking and weeding in mid-April, but with the unpredictable weather, their work didn’t kick off until early May.

“During the spring, you have to spend quite some time making the plot look nice again,” Simpson said. “… I just find weeding really relaxing.”

Simpson – whose plots are located around Portland Head Light and in the Children’s Garden – said it’s the perfect volunteer opportunity because she can decide when to do the work and for how long.

“There are different types of gardeners,” Atwell said. “Some people like to come often and some people let it get bad then say ‘it’s time to get to work’ and spend a lot of time here.”

Simpson also likes to spend her time in the park because she gets the chance to meet and talk to visitors who are walking through.

“I love talking to people, so it’s right up my alley,” she said. “When the buses come and the tourists come off, I yak to all of the people.”

Even though Fort Williams Park is owned by the town, not only Cape Elizabeth residents contribute. For instance, Linden Thigpen has been gardening since 1998 and today maintains two plots in the park, as well as a few in Brunswick and at her home in South Portland.

“I come from a gardening family,” Thigpen said. “I’ve been doing it for quite a long time.”

She visits the park twice a day to let her dog, Charlie, run in the park’s off-leash area. Adopting two plots was her way of saying “thank you.”

“I just really appreciate this park and have been here for so long,” she added. “It’s my way of giving back … It’s been extraordinary to see how this park has opened up and blossomed.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Jessica Simpson visits Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth several times a week to weed, rake and deadhead her garden plots near Portland Headlight and in the Children’s Garden. She says it’s a great way to help the community while getting outside and meeting visitors.

Adopt-a-Plot volunteers Philip Villandry, left, Linden Thigpen, and Jessica Simpson, and program coordinator Tom Atwell enjoy sunny spring afternoons by tending to some of the 70-80 garden plots at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth.

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