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At Ledyard library, volunteers grow interest in gardening

Ledyard — Libraries often are touted as places where stories and imaginations come alive through books.

Bill Library’s newest collection literally will come alive — once you add dirt, water and a little sunlight.

The library in Ledyard Center recently debuted its seed library, the result of a community collaboration that has spanned not only both libraries in town but also the garden club, the high school, other libraries in the state and the generosity of individuals and companies alike.

Each seed library is operated a little differently, but the overarching idea is a community gardening resource where people can get free seeds to grow at home. The primary display is at Bill and houses several boxes of seed packets, organized alphabetically by vegetable type and then herbs and flowers; there’s also a small box of seeds at the Gales Ferry Library.

In addition to the seeds themselves, the collection includes a small selection of gardening books — the rest of the section is in the stacks a few steps away — as well as seed catalogs and pamphlets and binders full of resources on topics such as gardening zones, germination tips, composting and saving seeds.

Laura Norcia, who coordinates the program, said the seed library got its start after director Gale Bradbury had gone to a Libraries Online Consortium meeting last year. Other libraries in the consortium had their own seed libraries, and Bradbury asked Norcia, who coordinates a lot of Bill Library’s displays, to look into starting one.

“I chuckled because I’m not a gardener at all,” she said. “My husband is, but I’m not. I learned very quickly to find people who were good at it.”

Norcia made a few trips last year to Wheeler Library in North Stonington, which started its seed library in 2016 in an old card catalog. Gardener and library volunteer Diana Hunt maintains the Wheeler seed library along with a few other volunteers, and she answered Norcia’s questions about how to start.

Hunt also pointed Norcia in the direction of some of the organizations and seed companies that donate money and seeds, such as the Eastern Connecticut Community Garden Association, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and the extensions of the University of Connecticut and the University of Rhode Island.

Hunt said she gave Norcia a lot of credit for establishing Bill’s seed library without any gardening background, noting the value and importance of getting community groups and local farmers involved.

Over the winter, volunteers met three times to go through the seed donations and establish an inventory, sorting not only packets of seeds but also loose seeds from the gardens of members of the Ledyard Garden Club.

Club member and master gardener Roberta Levandoski said the variety of seeds in the library, from the locally grown to the organics, heirlooms and hybrids, will make it easier for patrons to find what they’re looking for. It also gives gardeners a chance to “share the love” with their neighbors.

Among the volunteers were several students in the high school agri-science program, including junior Virginia McChesney and senior Sara Tomis. McChesney said she found out about the seed library through horticulture teacher Karolyn Jordan, who had been in contact with Norcia, and she then recruited Tomis and a few others to help with the program.

“I personally enjoyed working with the garden club,” McChesney said. “They had a lot of experience that I didn’t even know you could get, like they knew seeds just by looking at them.”

“They were super knowledgeable,” Tomis added. “There were some nitty-gritty things I didn’t know, like germination tests. We’ve covered that in class since, but I didn’t know you could do that.”

In addition to assisting with sorting and inventory maintenance, McChesney, Tomis and their fellow students have created displays for the library, highlighting gardening basics in February and container gardening for March. McChesney also staffed a table two mornings at the winter farmers’ market before the seed library was launched to draw interest and answer questions about the program.

“The kids have really taken over, and I’ve just let them be the leaders,” Jordan said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to learn and really see what they can do outside of class, taking knowledge from what they’ve learned in class and taking it back there, and vice versa.”

The students will continue maintaining inventory of the seed library throughout the season, and a suite of local experts will staff the library’s “Ask a Gardener” box. Patrons can submit gardening questions at either library, and Norcia will connect them with someone who can answer their question. Each question and answer is also logged in a binder, so patrons can learn from one another’s inquiries.

Levandoski and Full Heart Farm owner Allyson Angelini are among those tapped to answer patron questions submitted through the box, and both said it will serve as a valuable local resource for people who otherwise wouldn’t know whom to talk to about their gardening problems.

Angelini, who is preparing for her eighth growing season, said she wanted to support the seed library in any way she could. In addition to the box, she also created the seed library brochure, donated money to purchase seeds and is hosting two of the workshops scheduled by the library to introduce patrons of all ages to gardening.

“It’s exciting that the local food movement continues to grow and, along with that, the enthusiasm for gardening, especially for growing food,” she said. “These seed libraries are a way to make that accessible for people.”

The Ledyard seed library is open during regular library hours. Upcoming workshops include a seed starting class for adults at 10 a.m. March 30; a community gardening presentation at 6:30 p.m. April 10, and a gardening project and craft for kids program at 10 a.m. April 17. For more information, call (860) 464-9912.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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