Gardening volunteers in West St. Paul

Meleah Miller: Volunteer Planting in West St. Paul

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You may have noticed new plants showing up in the planters around West St. Paul park signs. That work doesn’t happen magically and it’s not primarily done at taxpayer expense. It happens thanks to dedicated volunteers like Meleah Miller.

Miller is a stay-at-home mom with a family therapy degree and a minor in biology. West St. Paul has been home for more than a decade, when Miller and her husband skipped the starter home and put down roots.

Miller taking a break with her helpers.

Today they have three energetic, outdoorsy boys and a senior citizen Pembroke Welsh corgi (also a rarely mentioned leopard gecko and a host of monarch caterpillars on their way to butterfly status). In addition to gardening, Miller volunteers with a Big Brothers Big Sisters art program and at her church, and also joins a regular crafting group that meets at Amore Coffee.

We talked with Miller to learn more about volunteer planting in West St. Paul:

How did you get started planting flowers for the city?

In May 2015, I met another planting volunteer in charge of that year’s project. She told me about the scope of the project. At the time, she was eager to serve the city and new to the gardening scene. I offered to help.

Several of us met each other at the first Green Thumbs Garden Tour—and hit it off in friendship. We began with a vision for each park site, a stiff budget, and a lot of enthusiasm. We soon learned the ins and outs of navigating the Gertens wholesale plant catalog and the codes for each of the plants, as that’s where the city orders plants from. 

Recent work in bloom at Harmon Park.

Why do you volunteer for this work?

This volunteering requires me to spend time outside! Being able to help with the plantings let me select native perennial plants that will provide pollinator friendly zones, and these native  plants flourish in the poor quality of soil. Selecting a variety of plants is both a way to keep the plantings interesting and helps ensure that plants will flourish. 

It lets me meet gardeners of various interests and abilities. It is a colorful and social volunteer opportunity. We take the family on garden driving tours to “check on the plants.” I enjoy watching them grow throughout Minnesota’s summer!

A byproduct of volunteering is that my kids see their mom taking on tasks in their community. It becomes part of their normal to drive around surrounded by plants and garden tools and for them to also contribute. They get excited about visiting the parks and planting and digging especially. 

My local friends have helped and former strangers have become friends via planting. 

What other ways can West St. Paul beautify our city—whether it’s in parks or yards or other spaces?

There are so many ways:

  • Clean up loose trash while walking.
  • Plant a pocket of prairie or native plants in your yard.
  • Capitalize on sunny areas by planting edibles, fruits, herbs, vegetables.
  • Commit to a pesticide free yard.
  • Compost!

What excites you about the future of West St. Paul? 

I’m excited about the future of West St. Paul because we have made friends and met people here. I know the names of most of my neighbors! I can compost! We live near many wonderful green spaces! A person can get involved volunteering in many ways and can positively effect change. 

How can people join you and help out with your volunteer efforts?

Primarily I use Facebook to coordinate gardening efforts via West St. Paul Green Thumbs and West St. Paul Neighbors. I recognize that can be self limiting. We are still looking for citizens to adopt parks to make sure the plants aren’t wilting in the heat when rain is sparse. None of our sites have irrigation systems so this remains a challenge. And we can always use help to pull the inevitable rogue weeds that spring up. 

Thanks to our wonderful, hard-working volunteers, we’ve had lots of great help this year, and in particular Eva Novaczyk and Carly Dusseau have helped for countless sites and for several years. We’ve had two year olds and retired people plant alongside each other. We’ve had residents donate plants from their yards, which helps stretch our budget and diversify our plantings. Last year several plants came from nearby South St. Paul yards by generous gardeners. Our city’s volunteer coordinator, Diane Erickson, has been a great resource along the way. 

Left to right: Carly Dusseau, Meleah Miller, and Jan Bremner.

Thanks to Meleah Miller for sharing her insights with the West St. Paul Reader.

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