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A Garden for All

Washington resident, Denise Arturi, has a mission



Supervising some 100 volunteers, Denise Arturi leads the way at Judea Garden.

Photos by Rich Pomerantz

Denise Arturi is one of those people everybody in town knows. Unassuming, tirelessly hard working, always smiling, her silver hair belies the youthfulness of her active life. She’s always on the go, the quintessential doer.

Arturi is head gardener of the Judea Garden, a thriving community garden founded by members of St. John’s Church in Washington after the economic crash of 2008 to help provide food for local families in need, and now part of Steep Rock Association. Arturi supervises more than 100 volunteers, individuals, and members of almost every local organization from the schools and faith based groups to service clubs like the Lions and the Garden Club. The Washington Fire Department keeps the water tanks filled for irrigation.

Individuals start the seeds on their windowsills, weed the rows, harvest, sort and package the produce weekly for distribution at town hall in Washington and through food banks in New Milford and Warren. Arturi calculates that in the ten years it has been operating, the garden has provided over 30,000 pounds of food to local residents. “The mission is always to consider the needs of the community and to involve as many components of the town as we can,” she says. True to her unselfish nature, it’s never “I”, always “we”.

A Washington resident since 1982, Arturi had just completed her master gardener certification when the garden was started. Her husband Peter, an attorney, had accepted a job that required relocating, so Denise was preparing to move when the economy tanked and the job offer disappeared. The Arturis remained, contributing to the good fortune of the community. She was asked to help with the garden at its inception, and has never looked back. As the head volunteer for many years she managed the garden, located now (after a move) on Steep Rock land at the entrance to the Macricostas Preserve on Christian Street. Management was transferred to Steep Rock in 2014. 

Now entering its tenth season, the garden is expanding this year to almost double in size with new raised beds. The goal for this year is to plant perennial crops new to the garden, like asparagus, rhubarb, and Jerusalem artichokes.

Also planned to celebrate this milestone anniversary are special events at the garden and in town. There will be a reading on May 5 of the children’s classic, Stone Soup, at 1 pm for children at the Gunn Library with guests asked to bring vegetables to share. The library is also hosting Summer Garden Abundance talks with local cookbook author Ann Hodgman and Robin Hirschfield whose canned goods are enjoyed by patrons of many area establishments.  

Throughout the summer Arturi is planning a series of roundtable talks in the garden, with local farmers and gardeners to discuss issues relating to local gardening. On July 7 at 4 pm there will be a photography workshop, with an exhibit and contest of photos from the garden planned on August 25 which is also Open Garden Day.

And every Wednesday there is the popular Weed and Wine, with wine provided for adult volunteer weeders. Planting days this year will be May 19 and 20, and June 3. 

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