Home & Garden Lifestyle

A New Way to Grow West Hartford

West Hartford Garden Club members sort and file seed packets for library patrons to take home and plant. From left, Christine Van Drasek, Janice Schnabel, and Gina Trusiewicz. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

Novice and expert gardeners can patronize the new free seed library – at the library.

The new seed library at the Noah Webster branch of the library is being coordinated by members of the West Hartford Garden Club and Adult Services Librarian Andrew Piro (second from left). Garden club members, from left, include Christine Van Drasek, Janice Schnabel, Beth Ann Loveland Sennett, and Gina Trusiewicz. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

By Tracey Weiss

It may look like an ordinary office cabinet, but this particular piece of furniture holds a new world of opportunity.

A joint effort between the West Hartford Garden Club and the West Hartford Library has resulted in the town’s first free community seed library at the Noah Webster branch, where anyone can go to grab packets of seeds and propagate their own flowers and vegetables.

The seed library kicked off March 18 with an event at the library to encourage people to take seeds home to plant. West Hartford Garden Club members, UConn certified Master Gardeners, and library staffers were on hand to answer questions and give away door, raffle prizes, and of course, seeds.

The seed library is open during regular library hours, and anyone can pick up seeds – no library card needed. It’s located beneath the staircase to the mezzanine, by the information desk.

Beth Ann Loveland Sennett, who is a co-chair of the club’s civic projects committee with Ann Massucco, came up with the idea at a club meeting last fall.

Club members Gina Trusiewicz and Janice Schnabel took the lead on getting the project up and running, according to Loveland Sennett. 

“Janice made visits to local seed library programs to decide how to move forward with this amazing program,” she said.

“Janice set up the many, many meetings with the multiple parties involved, who connected with the West Hartford Public Library and followed up with Andrew Piro (Adult Services Librarian) after establishing that connection, and organized the program display, rules, and procedures and the launch and ongoing operations of the seed library. Janice was also the person who asked Ocean State for seeds and was given 3,600 packets and a $200 gift card, which was what made the launch of this program possible.”

Seed packets are sorted before being stickered and filed at the new free seed library at the Noah Webster branch of the library. You don’t need a library card to take seeds home. Courtesy photo

Schnabel and Trusiewicz had help from fellow club member volunteer Christine Van Drasek. Others helped sticker, sort, and file 3,500 packets of flower and vegetable seeds in the cabinet. (More seeds came from grants from the Hudson Valley Seed Company and the UConn Master Gardener Association grants procured by the gardem club, and from Butler Nursery).

The seed library is “a gift to the community and to all of us,” Loveland Sennett said.

West Hartford Garden Club members Janice Schnabel (left) and Gina Trusiewicz show off a few of the varieties of seed packets now available to the community, at no cost, at the Noah Webster Library. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

“Part of our mission is to help people garden,” Van Drasek said. “We help with instruction and handouts, too. There’s more to it than throwing seeds out in the backyard and praying.”

In fact, the handouts available at the seed library are there to get beginners started on everything from planning a garden, starting seedlings, and improving garden soil, to watering, building a container garden, and saving seeds. 

Interest in creating seed libraries has been on the rise, according to Piro, who is also the club’s liaison at the library. 

“I wasn’t surprised at the interest in the community,” he said.

Seed libraries and gardening, in general, have grown exponentially. Seed libraries are even supported by the community-funded organization, Seed Libraries, at seedlibraries.weebly.com, which offers classes, summits, and advice on everything from getting a seed library started to building the stock of seeds at a library. In the U.S., there are more than 1,200 “Sister Seed” libraries listed at the website; around the world, the list is currently at more than 2,400.

With gardening becoming more popular since the onset of COVID, it does makes sense that seed libraries are finding permanent homes next to books and other items that can be borrowed locally. The 2021 National Gardening Association study found that 42% of gardeners increased their gardening activities due to the COVID pandemic, while only 9% gardened less.

A study by the National Gardening Association National Garden Statistics study found that the proportion of older demographics is steady at 35%, but the younger gardening demographic is rising rapidly to all-time highs. Which is why, based on what they see as the needs of the community, West Hartford Garden Club members will also start offering workshops and events, according to Loveland Sennett.

But first, “we want to get more seeds in hands,” Trusciewicz said. “People who don’t normally come to the library might come here for this.”

When you grab a stickered seed packet at the library, remember that it’s a gift from the coordinated efforts of members of the West Hartford Garden Club and the West Hartford Library. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

According to garden club members, it may be possible to create seed libraries for all three branches, “and have people come to expect it as part of the library’s services,” Van Drasek said. 

Working with people to show them how to save flower and vegetable seeds – from all of the diverse cultures represented in town – is also a goal.

“We want to teach people how to save seeds and have them donate those seeds to the library,” Loveland Sennett said. “That’s how we hope to build relationships too. But at the end of the day, this is a move toward helping people. And it’s fun.”

The supply of seeds had been dwindling, but a new supply arrived this week. Organizers sorted and repacked them so they can reach more gardeners, Loveland Sennett said.

For more information, go to  email [email protected].

About the West Hartford Garden Club

Since 1931, the West Hartford Garden Club has been a “working club” with over 100 members from West Hartford and nearby towns. The whole club meets 10 times each year, September to June, usually at noon on the first or second Thursday of the month. Meetings, hands-on gardening projects, committee work, and other activities take place during the daytime. They also hold monthly programs, most open to the public, featuring speakers, gardeners, designers, and more.

The club has planted gardens at public sites like Town Hall and several area schools, and maintains the Butler McCook historic gardens in Hartford and the garden at the Noah Webster House in West Hartford. Members also work with groups of adults and young people to teach them to grow plants and arrange flowers.

A version of this story previously appeared in the April edition of West Hartford LIFE.

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