Photo by Dane Anderson
Master naturalist Jane Dunhma, left, who chairs the Westbank Community Libraries garden committee, works on her rented vegetable bed with friend R.J. Inserra during the recent fair weather in the new gardens built by the library and members of the community.
Westbank Community Libraries director Beth Fox had a lot of ideas in mind when she began championing the local library during its infancy back in 1984.
At the point of her retirement last fall, the legendary leader had accomplished more than most people could ever dream of achieving. She led the charge to successfully create library districts in Texas. She drove fundraising campaigns to build two libraries and even enticed first lady Laura Bush into attending the opening of her namesake branch in 2009.
Fox changed Westlake’s perception of what a library is – from a quiet place to read a book to a thriving community center and cutting-edge information hub. In her 30 years at the helm of the Westbank Libraries, she must have accomplished almost everything she had envisioned. Perhaps the one thing that eluded her was the simplest – a garden.
This spring, Fox’s dream of a community garden has blossomed into reality. With some help from local Scouts and volunteers, the Westbank Library now has new garden plots burgeoning with life along its border with Westbank Drive.
“We really wanted to make the library a place where people can gather for all kinds of reasons,” said Jen Bigheart, Westbank Libraries public relations specialist and reference librarian. “We hope our gardens will be an inspiration for other libraries around the country.”
People are definitely gathering in the gardens. All 10 plots have been rented, and there is a waiting list for others who want a chance to stick their hands into the fertile soil. The 8-foot by 8-foot organic beds rent out for $100 a year and can be shared. The rental fees go toward the maintenance expenses of the gardens.
Master naturalist Jane Dunhma is the Westbank Libraries garden committee chair. She can be found watering, plucking weeds and encouraging vegetables in her own mulched bed at the library two or three times a week. Fox asked Dunhma to help guide the development of the gardens.
“I like coming out here; it’s a great chance to get to know other gardeners and share ideas and new information,” she said. “It’s more fun gardening with other people. Plus I get more sunlight here and fencing to keep the deer out.”
The library gardens are a true community effort. Local Scouts were instrumental in turning the idea into reality. Girl Scout Sophia Shi built a garden area for children with two beds and a living tunnel. Other Scouts ripped up the grass that used to grow on the library grounds and mulched the entire area. Scouts built the raised beds, the garden sign and an impressive rose garden. Another built a compost system. When water problems developed, a Scout stepped in and built a drainage system.
The gardens benefit more than just the green-thumbed adults growing fruits and veggies. Last month, a giggling bunch of young children planted pickling cucumbers.
“It’s really great to read about gardens, but for little kids it’s all about being hands on,” Bigheart said. “That makes all the difference.”
The library gardens are entirely organic. No herbicides, insecticides or chemical fertilizers are allowed. There are also restrictions on what can be added to the compost area. Last fall the first children’s garden yielded more than 90 pounds of squash and cucumbers. That harvest was donated to the Capital Area Food Bank.
Expanding further outdoors seems to be a natural extension for the Westbank Libraries system as it continues to push the boundaries that define the term library.
“The face of libraries is changing,” Bigheart said. “Part of it is figuring out what communities need. Sure, we have beautiful books and brand new CDs. But we don’t just want to be about books. Libraries are not a place where people shush you. We are definitely not that library.”