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Wed, April 21

Garden your worries away: Kingmanites find a safe refuge from the pandemic in the garden

Gardeners harvest the vegetables of their labor at the DIG IT Kingman Community Garden, 2301 Lillie Ave., in Kingman. From left are Nancy Cristler, Denise Neath and Debra Sixta. (Photo by Agata Popeda/Kingman Miner)

Gardeners harvest the vegetables of their labor at the DIG IT Kingman Community Garden, 2301 Lillie Ave., in Kingman. From left are Nancy Cristler, Denise Neath and Debra Sixta. (Photo by Agata Popeda/Kingman Miner)

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Joyce Richards, a local gardener of 40 years, displays a sunflower with 23 heads that she grew in front of her house in Butler this summer. (Photo by Agata Popeda/Kingman Miner)

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Cindy Toepfer, master gardener at the Mohave County Cooperative Extension Service, and Barbara Morton, both members of the Cerbat Garden Club, talk at the club’s plant sale on Friday, Aug. 21. (Photo by Agata Popeda/Kingman Miner)

KINGMAN – It’s relaxing, positive, and you are rewarded for your efforts with things like zucchini.

No, the members of the Cerbat Garden Club are not surprised that people are picking up gardening during a global pandemic. And they were not surprised to see a steady stream of customers when they finally met – after months on break from their regular monthly meetings – for a plant sale on Friday, Aug. 21.

“It’s a really good turnout,” said Dinah Moreau, the current president of the club. They usually have this sale at the Home and Garden Expo, one of many events canceled due to COVID-19.

But they certainly didn’t take a break from gardening. A couple of club members took advantage of the fact that a lot of laid-off landscapers needed safe work. They also painted “absolutely everything” in the gardens, inspired by a presentation on colors at the club.

“COVID-19 put a damper on our meetings,” said Joanne Olson, who joined the club for social reasons. She is relatively new to gardening and used the shutdown for the pandemic to experiment with patio plants and indoor plants.

Another member and former club president, Tony Bigelow, “lives on a pile of rocks,” she said, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping a wonderful garden that she shows with pride on her phone.

“I don’t garden more because I have no more space,” said Mohave County Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Cindy Toepfer. “But yes, many people mention that they are gardening more so yes, that’s something that changed.”

Things changed at the cooperative extension, too. Because it is associated with the University of Arizona, they are forced to “do nothing” since April.

“We don’t educate, we don’t have workshops and don’t do presentations to the public,” Toepfer said. “As far as master gardening, we can only take calls and answer people via phone rather than do visits at home.”

But that doesn’t stop local gardeners. The best proof may be a sunflower with 23 heads, which Joyce Richards, a gardener of 40 years, grew in front of her house in Butler.

“It’s pretty unusual,” she told the Miner. “I’ve grown sunflowers for years. Sometimes they have two or three heads, but that’s it. And multi-headed sunflowers typically grow in the fields, unattended.”

Richards and her boyfriend, Luke, do nothing but gardening during COVID-19, changing the front and the back of their place into a paradise. Before the coronavirus, they would go to a senior center, but now they needed a new hobby. They found it in growing petunias and marigolds, but also cucumbers, dill eggplant, bell peppers, lettuce and basil.

DIG It Community Gardens, 2301 Lillie Ave., is open for business, with many empty beds available and weeded, waiting for new gardeners. A lot of this preparation work was done by a group of young volunteers from an LDS church that visited three times per week.

“They are indispensable for me,” said Nancy Cristler, one of the gardeners at DIG It. “They did a lot of weeding, lifting; a lot of physical labor. It’s a rotation of young men and they just do whatever we ask them to do. They are just delightful.”

“In the isolation, gardening is a mental gift,” said another DIG It gardener, Debra Sixta. “It’s peaceful. Something about putting your hands in the dirt. I know mental health professionals recommend it for anxiety. It works well for me.”

She wasn’t very committed to gardening before COVID-19. She had a lot at the garden, but often shared it with other people. Since the pandemic started, she comes every day.

“I bought two more beds,” Sixta said. “I had no idea I can grow like that. Never done it in my life.”

During the pandemic, the community gardens changed into a zucchini factory, producing 40-60 pounds of produce each week that is donated to the Kingman Area Food Bank and the Cornerstone Mission. “This week we took 52 pounds to the food bank,” said Denise Neath, event organizer at DIG It.

Neath said that while the garden has stopped their usual children’s activities, they still put on a “story time” online (check the DIG IT Community Gardens Facebook page).

“And people still do come here with kids and friends privately and do crafts,” she said.

Ladies of the CGC have a gardening lot here, too – on top of taking care of the grounds in the Bonelli House downtown.

“It’s nice up there and there’s no chances to catch anything,” said member Barbara Morton, making a reference to COVID-19.

Morton has always grown plants on her half-acre and joined the garden club as soon as she retired. Her favorite part is watering in the morning when hummingbirds visit, intrigued.

“It’s so relaxing, “she said. “It’s freeing.”

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