Gardening group puts down roots with Life Saving Station project

Coastal Point • Kerin Magill: Members of the Salt Air Gardeners recently began a landscaping project at the Indian River Life Saving Station.Coastal Point • Kerin Magill: Members of the Salt Air Gardeners recently began a landscaping project at the Indian River Life Saving Station.When Indian River Life Saving Station site manager Laura Scharle got back work recently after a day away, it looked as if garden fairies had made a stop there.

Landscaping around the museum and historic site had been spruced up — plants added, mulch raked in, beds cleaned up.

In reality, the “fairies” were members of the Salt Air Gardeners, a recently formed group of “lifelong learners” who were looking for a community project. In their quest, they contacted the Inland Bays Garden Center in Ocean View, where they learned that the Lifesaving Station’s grounds were in need of some attention.

Based in the Bay Forest community, the group (don’t call them a “club” — they prefer to be referred to as an “organization” or just by their name) is nearly 50 members strong, despite only having been in existence for a few months.

After consulting with Inland Bays Garden Center owner Cheryl Rehrig, the group set about figuring out what was needed and where. Plants for the site needed to be selected carefully.

“They need to be not only native to coastal Delaware, but, essentially, to our dune ecosystem,” Scharle said.

As such, the plants need to be drought-resistant and salt-tolerant, in addition to being native to the area. With guidance from Rehrig, plants were selected to fill in gaps in the landscaping at the station.

“We wanted to reuse what’s already here,” said Libby Bishop, co-chair of the Life Saving Station committee.

Scharle said she was approached by the Salt Air Gardeners after she had sought help from other groups for quite a while.

“This was mind-boggling, to get it done so fast,” Bishop said. She credited the speedy work to the gardeners themselves, whom she described as a “hard-working, creative, passionate group.”

Salt Air Gardeners Treasurer Oksana Hoey said the group began as “five crazy people” who wanted to serve the community while expanding their gardening knowledge, and the Life Saving Station was a perfect fit. “We have a whole lot of ‘lifelong learners’” in the group, said group President Lois McNamara.

“We knew they were a little overwhelmed, when we came to the site” to get an idea of the scope of the project, Bishop said.

Scharle said the project points to the importance of volunteers in maintaining state parks properties. At the Life Saving Station, “It is really a challenge for our staff to upkeep” the existing landscaping, much less add to it, Scharle said. “It’s really amazing how much work gets done by volunteers” in the state parks, she added.

When she arrived at the Life Saving Station after the Salt Air Gardeners had their first workday there, Scharle said, “I could not believe how much they accomplished.”

The materials and plants used in the project are jointly funded by the Salt Air Gardeners and by the state parks. The group is planning more visits to continue filling in the landscaping, as well as maintain it.