Bill Pratt, Dave Unrein and the other volunteers who will spend up to 70 hours a week tending the Treasure Island Demonstration Garden have the dog days like anyone else.
They will bake in the heat of the day, their bones aching, as they dig and weed and plant the garden off the Poudre Trail. As much as they love gardening, there’s only so much you can do, and so they get cranky, too. They might even wonder why they’re out there. And then a cyclist will come by, pause for a moment and tell them how beautiful all of it looks.
“And then we’re good to go again,” Pratt said.
It’s a good thing for the garden that all Pratt and his committee of five require is a few “atta boys.” The garden, in its fifth season, is one of the highlights of the Poudre Trail, if you believe all the cyclists, runners and walkers who rave about it. It’s also a producer, as they donated about 4,500 pounds of food from the vegetable garden to the Food Pantry of Windsor. Now is one of the best times to see it, as many of the flowers are blooming.
Pratt, like many of the most dedicated, was looking for a serious hobby after he retired from teaching in 1997. He puttered around in his garden and decided to take it more seriously. He became a Master Gardener in 2006 and began to look for a project to fulfill the required volunteer hours (he needed 50 in his first year). He spent many of those hours in Greeley that first year and wondered why he couldn’t help his home of Windsor.
After exploring a couple of possibilities, Windsor town officials suggested the estimated 15-acre plot. Pratt remembers it — it was a grassy field with a couple of haggard trees. But the official liked it for its good soil — it was former farmland — and accessibility to water. Pratt swallowed hard and started digging.
As it turns out, a group of gardeners just like Pratt formed, and the core group remains today. The five, along with the dozen or so who volunteer for the garden but don’t put in as many hours, all have a niche.
Unrein is the vegetable guy. Ron Sterling is considered the emeritus, as health problems keep him from spending too much time in the dirt any longer. Janene Willey, Jen Ottenhoff and Pratt prefer the flowers, though Pratt also organizes the volunteers, classes and manages to find dozens of items that help keep the garden on the cheap. The group calls themselves the DiGGers, the Demonstration Garden Group, and all are Colorado Master Gardeners of Weld County.
Pratt believes the town has spent maybe $500 on the garden in the years it’s been up and running. That’s partly because of it being a part of the Plant Select program, which gives the garden new specimens every year. That program is a joint effort with Colorado State University and the Denver Botanic Gardens and emphasizes durable plants that fit the region, which helps conserve water and possibly eliminate the need for pesticides.
But it’s also because of the donations from places such as Pope Farms, which gives a ton of annuals every year, the oversight of the town of Windsor and a little ingenuity.
Logs came from the neighbor’s old tree across the street. The rock garden was all donated. So was all the cacti for the new cactus garden. They got benches from a dismantled deck. They pulled a chair out of a Dumpster and “planted” old bottles for decoration to give the garden its quirky edge. That quirkiness isn’t limited to the bottles. The garden has a touch of sass to it. They “planted” a small dead tree in the garden and hung an educational sign, “How To Kill A Tree.” They warn thirsty trail users of its non-potable water with a sign that reads, “Do You Like To Be Sick? Drinking Our Water Will Make That Happen.”
“We scrounge,” he said.
Scrounging takes time, however, and so does finding ways to work with the items once they have them. The season, and the need for many of the volunteers, doesn’t start until April, and yet Pratt found himself out there in February, digging and placing the red rock for the new garden. Not many were along at that time, either, to cheer him along with nice comments. But Pratt still worked hard. He knew they would come later.