November 28, 2021

Keeping the herbs alive

Club members to restore Dwyer Memorial Park garden

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

The colonial herb garden at Dwyer Park is sectioned into four categories of plant usage: medicinal, aromatic, teas and culinary. Members of the garden club visited the park on Saturday to tidy up the garden.

The colonial herb garden at Dwyer Memorial Park is getting some TLC from a group of gardeners set on restoring the site and installing educational resources for each plant in the plot.

Members of the Town and Country Garden Club of Cortland and Homer have cared for the herb garden since 2019. On Thursday, the Cortland County Legislature will consider authorizing the club to rehabilitate the garden, using funds donated to the club, including from club members.

“This is going to be a project that we will be working on year after year after year,” said club Vice President Sue Covington. “The girls that are in this club are amazing. We put out a message saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do this,’ and soon everybody comes in with their clippers and everything — getting a project done in an hour or two — they’re like worker bees.”

The gardeners visit the park every few weeks, checking plant growth and removing weeds. The club hopes to keep the garden tidy, after seeing how overgrown it was only a few years ago, Covington said.

The Cortland County High Department, which oversees park maintenance, does not have the staff or budget for every restoration project, such as the herb garden, said Highway Superintendent Charles Sudbrink.

“We are trying our best to maintain roads, bridges, lawns, landfill and airport,” Sudbrink said. “The herb garden had been neglected for many years — it’s great to see it being restored. I think it’s wonderful that there are people generous enough to give their time or money to the park. It gives them a true sense of ownership.”

The circular garden has four sections: aromatic, culinary, medicinal and tea herbs.

“Besides the upkeep, the garden club’s main goal is education,” said Legislator Linda Jones (U-Homer), a member of the Highway Committee and the Dwyer Memorial Park Citizens’ Advisory Committee. “They want signs there to say, ‘This is this plant and this is what it’s used for,’ so someone could learn something new as they walk through the garden.”

The garden features only plants that were used during the Colonial era, separated by brick paths that have a history of their own. The Hotel Cortland stood at Groton Avenue and North Main Street in Cortland, and was torn down in 1975. Bricks from the building were set aside for several years, some of which were later used to build the herb garden in the late 1990s.

Now, some of the bricks are unlevel or broken across the top — creating an unsafe walking path. The garden club is discussing restoration options to keep the bricks.

“I’m a preservationist at heart — I don’t believe in tearing things down,” Jones said. “The herb garden has been there for many years, and it can be very educational. It’s part of the park and you can’t just let things go — that’s the preservationist in me. Yes, you could tear it all up and put something new there, but to me that would be an atrocity.”

The garden was originally started by the Little York Garden Club, which has since disbanded. The Town and Country Garden Club of Cortland and Homer wants to keep the history alive, Covington said.

People interested in supporting the restoration project can contact the garden club through the Friends of Dwyer Park Facebook page.