Know Your Como: A Walk In The Park
with Garden Steward Smith
The crocuses were just poking their heads out on a cold April day at the North Path Garden at Como Lake. This soon-to-be colorful and well-tended plot is the creation of Debby Smith, recipient of the St. Paul’s 2021 Volunteer of the Year award, a distinct and well-earned honor. And she had a lot to tell.
New to Como Park in 2007, Debby noticed the mostly untended East Gate flower beds. Working with parks and recreation over the next three years she assumed stewardship of four Como Park Garden plots. She expanded and enriched the North Path Garden pictured above. That once smaller and floundering garden has become the beautiful plot it is today.
Daffodils, tulips and hyacinth in the spring; iris, blazing star, cone flowers, zinnias and yarrow in the summer; followed by the day lilies, sedum, cardinal flower and swamp milkweed in the fall. Debby also plants annuals around the edges. The map name is North Path Como Garden but Debby just calls it the second garden north of the pavilion.
After the plants come up in the spring, Debby typically visits every couple of weeks. She weeds, prunes and keeps 12 hoses for watering, which she stores on site or takes home at the end of every season. Debby uses no chemicals on her gardens and gathers seeds every year. This year she provided a girl scout troop seeds for them to plant.
Her garden plot at the Lexington Avenue bridge is also striking. Although smaller, it provides a colorful accent of sedum and day lilies at the stone wall where many stop to sit awhile before making the walk to the conservatory and zoo.
Then there’s the East Gateway gardens, which can’t be seen from the lake walking path. There are two plots, one on each side of Nagasaki Blvd as it intersects Como Blvd East. The north side gateway contains the cornerstone of the old Ramsey County Courthouse, which was originally laid in 1865. It also has a plaque from 1933, when the gateway was built and honoring then park commissioners Truax and Kaufman.
According to Tricia Wehrle, Volunteer Coordinator for St. Paul, the city has a robust crew of volunteers. For the roughly 100 volunteer stewards who maintain and enrich the city gardens, it begins the first week in May. Stewards across the city receive emails with times to visit the greenhouse off Hamline Avenue to pick up annual and (sometimes) perennial seedlings that they’ve pre-ordered for the season. Mulch is delivered to each garden when requested. Then it’s up to each steward to water and maintain their creations. Weeds and garden waste are disposed of by the stewards.
Many, like Debby, also purchase or donate their own plantings for the gardens they tend. She researches information on native plantings to integrate into her gardens. She also buys manure and compost to enrich her soils every year. Since 2007, Debby estimates that she has volunteered upward of 800 hours on the Como Park gardens. “I love to see them smile,” Debby answers, when I ask what she likes best about being a garden steward.
And smile we do. Some of us say “What is that?” to a companion. Some of us point out a flower to our kids or grandkids or stoop to enjoy the fragrances.
Cole Porter could have been talking about Debby’s garden in his song about a walk in the park – “It’s delightful, it’s delicious, It’s de-lovely.” So it is.
Note: Presently, the city needs a steward(s) for the Churchill Rain Garden, which is on the corner or Horton and North Churchill. Interested persons can apply for this or other volunteer needs at: stpaul.gov/ongoingvolunteers.
Do you know some interesting history about your home, your neighbor or about the Como neighborhood? Anyone is welcome to do an interview, share historic photos or do a write up for the Know Your Como segment of our newsletter! For more information on how to submit go to our Know Your Como page.