Recently inducted Eagle Scout Thomas Lee Philip (of Cranford) will finally see the good results of his Eagle Scout Service Project on Sunday, May 18, when the Master Gardeners of Union County hold their 25th Annual Spring Garden Fair and Plant Sale.  The Fair will run from noon to 5pm, rain or shine, at the MGs’ Trailside Demonstration Gardens in the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside.  Tom (age 17) has designed, built and donated to the MGs three portable, handicapped-accessible, raised gardening benches for use by persons with disabilities.  On May 22, following the benches’ debut at the Fair, students from the Cranford Campus of the Cerebral Palsy League will visit the MGs’ Trailside compound to garden, for the first time, in Tom’s raised beds.

The portable planting benches are constructed of cedar to ensure their longevity, and were designed with the help of Tom’s grandfather, Kenneth Tietjens (of Palm, PA).  Together, they pre-cut the lumber, then Tom lead a team of his fellow Cranford Troop 80 Boy Scouts for two days to assemble the beds.  The beds are on wheels so they can be used at various locations in the Demonstration Gardens compound.  The project took 115 man hours to complete. 

To fund the project, Tom raised $500 through the sale of mustard from a secret family recipe. He also garnered a $100 donation from the Lowe’s Corporation and a $200 grant from the Master Gardeners to complete the needed financing of $800.

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The three attractive cedar planting beds will be on display at this year’s Spring Garden Fair, holding flowers and plants for sale to the gardening public on the patio near the MGs’ new, state-of-the-art greenhouse.

“Tom’s portable beds are designed for people in wheel chairs and will help make our Demo Gardens more inclusive to all visitors,” says MG T.J. Karns.  Karns, who chairs the MGs’ Grants Committee, reports that Project New Greenhouse was launched in 2008 with a $10,000 matching grant from the Blanche M. and George L. WATTS Mountainside Community Foundation.

"Accessibility was integral to the intent of inclusion,” states Karns, “so the design features paved walkways and handicapped parking spaces, a patio safe for wheel chair access, a special gate, and proper spacing of the planting tables inside the greenhouse. Tom’s beautiful benches are in sinc with this scenario.”

MG Joanne Krueger, who manages the Demonstration Gardens, is also quick to praise Tom for his accomplishment.

“Your service project for the Master Gardeners,” she writes in a congratulatory letter, “will greatly enhance our facility and our ability to work with disabled children and adults.  We are excited to have these handicapped-accessible gardening beds, and we look forward to many years of sharing our knowledge and love of gardening and the outdoors with wheelchair bound children and adults.  Your project will benefit the residents of Union County for many years.”

Tom responds that, “working with the Master Gardeners on this project was a great experience.   They were helpful and supportive, especially Mrs. Krueger.”   He notes that he and the other scouts from Cranford Troop 80 who participated in the portable raised beds project “were happy to help the handicapped and to be of service to the community “

In November 2013, Tom and other members of Cranford Scout Troop 80 continued their community service work when they once again donated time and sweat equity to spread mushroom compost on the MGs’ garden beds.  “The compost helps to ensure the best upcoming growing season for food and flowers,” says MG Krueger..  “In this regard,” she adds, “Troop 80 has been servicing the MGs’ garden beds with mushroom compost every November since 2010!” 

Their services, together with the ongoing efforts of dedicated Master Gardener volunteers, have paid off.  Since 2002, the MGs’ Community Sharing Garden, the SG Annex, and the Berry Patch, Herb and Harry Potter Gardens have produced more than 21,360 pounds of hardy vegetables, fruit and herbs for donation to local food pantries and soup kitchens in Union County. 

Eagle Scout Thomas Lee Philip will graduate from Cranford High School in June and will enter the College of William and Mary (Virginia) in fall 2014 to study International Relations and Economics.

Scout Troop 80 meets on Mondays, 7:30 to 9 p.m., at the First Presbyterian Church in Cranford.

The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County are trained volunteers whose mission is to support land stewardship and disseminate research-based information to the public related to gardening and natural resource management.  The program is part of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County and is supported in part by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.  The Master Gardeners are headquartered at the Extension offices in the Union County services building, 300 North Avenue East in Westfield.  To become a Master Gardener, or for more information about the MG program, call the Extension offices at (908) 964-3654 or visit http://mastergardeners-uc.orgCredit:  T.J. Karns, Joan Dickason, UC Master Gardeners.