Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Plants with a purpose at Garden Club of Peekskill sale this year

Annual event at Riverfront Green on Saturday, May 11
A bed of zinnia’s attracted butterflies in September at San Damiano Farm. Zinnia seedlings will be available at this year’s Garden Club of Peekskill Plant Sale May 11.

Plants with a purpose are among the herbs, vegetables, flowers, and perennials available at the Peekskill Garden Club’s annual sale, May 11, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Riverfront Green Pavilion.

The club has a new local grower for some of the plants it will sell, including 18 vegetables and herbs, and four flower varieties from the San Damiano Farm, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor in Garrison.

Seedlings were started earlier this year in the greenhouse  for the May 11 Garden Club of Peekskill’s sale. (Photos by Regina Clarkin)

The quality organic plants have a dual purpose: as a fundraiser for the Garden Club and to benefit the men’s ministry at the farm. The club ordered 350 pots from the farm, including heirloom tomatoes propagated from good stock at San Damiano, according to farm manager Bob Conboy.

“The vegetables, herbs and plants that are being raised at San Damiano Farm for our plant sale have a healthy and abundant future, and we’re looking forward to sharing them with our customers,” says Sally Bentley of the Peekskill Garden Club.

Last year’s crop of heirloom tomatoes from San Damiano Farm.

San Damiano plants are organically grown from seeds in the farm’s greenhouse, and are meticulously cared for by the men in the San Damiano Farm program. The ministry is a transition program for men in recovery from addiction, allowing them to extend their stay at Graymoor while learning skills at the farm.

Working towards long-term recovery, this transitional program provides housing and vocational training, allowing men who have completed a component of treatment at St. Christopher’s Inn to get back on their feet. They work at the farm in the morning, and look for jobs and prepare to live independently.

Conboy, a retired English teacher and administrator from Garrison, works 20 hours a week, year-round, overseeing the farm and the team of men. But the role is more a full-time labor of love for the affable Conboy, who tends the gardens seven days a week. He has 240 raised beds where he grows a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Bob Conroy keeps track of the hundreds of seedlings and when they started growing on excel spreadsheets.

The self-taught gardener takes his calling seriously, feeling a sense of stewardship for Mother Earth, the farm, and the men in recovery. “The men are very proud of the plants and the work they do at the farm,” he says.

This year, the men have the added responsibility of meeting a deadline for the garden club sale. “I’ve never had to have the plants ready for a particular plant sale before,” Conboy says with a smile. He is providing 850 plants for garden club sales in both Peekskill and Philipstown.

While the farm sells its own plants and produce at farmers markets onsite, they usually begin later in the season in June. The farm, Conboy adds, also sells to local restaurants, with proceeds returned to the program.

The Peekskill Garden Club first learned of the farm program, which has been operating for the past 13 years, when members toured the gardens last summer. The well-equipped farm includes a greenhouse, two hoop houses, and composting area, where it makes use of biodegradable food scraps from Graymoor’s kitchens.

“We were so impressed by the farming methods and the horticulture knowledge that Bob shares with all the men,” says Bentley. “When you see the industrious operation at the farm, you can’t help but admire how much love and intention goes into every row of beans and tomato plants. From the impeccable composting piles to the carefully staked tomatoes, the San Damiano farmers exude a love of nature and a respect for the bountiful gifts of the earth.”

Tools for the gardeners at San Damiano Farm.

San Damiano Farm does a lot more than start seedlings, according to Conboy. The men also tend to perennials, make root cuttings of plants like boxwood and lavender, and grow unique varieties of geraniums, among others. The greenhouse bursts with colorful coleus plants taken from cuttings last fall from around Graymoor’s landscaping, and also house plants and other horticulture projects.

These colorful coleus plants were started with cutting from last year’s crop.

Conboy prefers to water by hand, a task he says is labor-intensive but more controllable, and has rigged up an elaborate system of spigots and irrigation hoses.

The garden club sale will offer the following plants from the San Damiano Farm: chard; parsley; kale; beefsteak, heirloom, plum and cherry tomatoes;  basil; cilantro; thyme; oregano; sage; borage; chives; peppers; eggplant; lettuce; zinnia; sunflowers; and tithonia.

Shade and sun annuals will be provided by Wild Gardens Nursery in Cortlandt Manor. Native perennials and hanging baskets will also be available. Bentley urges shoppers to arrive early for the best selection.

The Petals Garden is on Central Avenue, along McGregory Brook. Garden Club of Peekskill members maintain the green space.

The garden club’s plant sale is the organization’s only fundraiser, Bentley adds. Proceeds support several community projects, including public garden spaces, and fund club scholarships.

“The little plants that folks purchase on May 11, and which they raise throughout the summer, will help ensure that families have nutritious food on their supper tables,” Bentley says.


Conboy extends an invitation to visit the farm, weekday mornings until noon, at 21 Franciscan Way, Garrison.






About the Contributor
Wendy Healy
Wendy Healy, Feature Writer
Feature writer Wendy Healy began her reporting career at the Peekskill Evening Star, the daily newspaper that covered life in Peekskill until 1985 when it was purchased by the Gannett newspaper chain and moved to Yorktown. Healy went on to a career in journalism and communications and is returning to Peekskill at the other end of her career to write feature stories about the fascinating people who call Peekskill home.