First community garden on city property is shovel ready is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, second from right, and Vertex Railcar Corp. CEO Don Croteau break ground on the community garden at Portia Mills Hines Park on Oct. 31, 2015.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, second from right, and Vertex Railcar Corp. CEO Don Croteau break ground on the community garden at Portia Mills Hines Park on Oct. 31, 2015. Photo courtesy of the City of Wilmington.

Groundbreaking began last week on the first community garden to be planted on land owned by the city of Wilmington.

The half-acre garden, located at Portia Mills Hines Park at 400 N. 10th St., is the first to be built since Wilmington officials passed a resolution in August permitting citizens and non-profit groups to plant and maintain such areas on city property.

“There are currently no community gardens in city parks,” said Dylan Lee from the city’s communications office. “The one proposed at Portia Mills Hines Park will be the first in a city park.”

According to Lee, there are two other community gardens already in place, one located on private church property and the other on county property. A proposed garden on a city-owned vacant lot on Dock Street is currently in the application process.

The plan proposal for the Portia Mills Hines Park location has 20 raised beds in it that will be used to grow crops and some flowers, according to Heather Kelejian, the program director of the Ability Garden at the New Hanover County Arboretum, one of the groups involved with the project. The fresh produce grown in these areas cannot be sold for commercial purposes.

“The idea is that it’ll be mostly vegetables that’ll go back to the neighborhood and community,” Kelejian said.

Under the resolution, neighborhood associations and non-profit agencies can apply to create and maintain community gardens on unused or underused city-owned land such as empty lots and neighborhood greenspaces. According to Kelejian, it was the city that suggested Portia Mills Hines Park as the location for the first garden.

“There’s quite a lot of vacant area there,” said Kelejian, noting that the garden will be 117 ft. by 93 ft in size. “They’re trying to turn the area around.”

A plan proposal for the community garden at Portia Mills Hines Park in Wilmington.
Community garden proposal at Portia Mills Hines Park. Courtesy of the City of Wilmington.

The design of the garden, which will be located near the park’s athletic fields, was drawn up by Bethany Windle, who currently works for the city’s planning department but did it on a volunteer basis as a member of the Junior League of Wilmington, another of the project’s partners. Kelejian said that though the garden will eventually be run solely by the neighborhood, the groups involved applied for the permit and are helping lay the foundation.

“We’re there to get the garden together,” Kelejian said.

Work on the site will continue throughout the winter. A pollinator garden of flowers could be ready by spring, but Kelejian said most of the crops won’t be planted until after next summer.

“We should be ready to go for a nice fall planting,” said Kelejian, who added that education programs such as nutrition and cooking would also be offered to the neighborhood through the project.

The Portia Mills Hines community garden is a joint effort between the city, the Ability Garden, the Junior League and the Blue Ribbon Commission, a youth violence prevention program whose name is on the permit for the project. (Currently Bill Saffo, the mayor of Wilmington, and Jonathan Barfield, the chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, serve as the Blue Ribbon Commission Board of Directors chair and vice chair, respectively.) The garden is sponsored by the Vertex Railcar Corporation, the Wilmington Newcomers Club, Hobby Greenhouse Club and New Hanover County Master Gardeners.