Community roots for Callicoon gardens

Posted 9/29/21

CALLICOON, NY — As the current chair of the Callicoon Beautification Committee (the Committee), John Erik Karkula earns a lot of attention for the beauty fo the town’s plantings.

That …

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Community roots for Callicoon gardens


CALLICOON, NY — As the current chair of the Callicoon Beautification Committee (the Committee), John Erik Karkula earns a lot of attention for the beauty fo the town’s plantings.

That attention isn’t unwarranted. The plantings, the gardens and the decorative flowers and grasses that decorate the town are beautiful, and he does a lot of work in designing and maintaining them. But it means the “quiet players” who contribute just as much to Callicoon’s beauty sometimes go unappreciated.

“No one knows, because they’re very quiet about it,” Karkula says, walking this reporter around the Callicoon plantings. “They don’t do it because they want attention, but I want them to have attention, you know?”

The work done by the “quiet players” is everywhere in Callicoon, much of it so discreet that even the work itself remains unnoticed.

Callicoon Creek Park is an example of just such work. On first glance, the park looks like a natural feature of the landscape; grass slopes gently down to the creekside, broken up with trees and tall grasses and with a few benches here and there the only obvious signs of human effort. But as Karkula points out, everything there was the result of dedicated work.

“ was actually a project created by a bunch of hardworking people 20 years ago,” he says. “These people volunteered to plant these trees, to mow and maintain [it], and then for whatever reason… they couldn’t do it anymore.”

The park fell into disarray once its founders stopped maintaining it, with tall grass growing wild and trash building up in the creek. It took the Committee coming in, clearing a way the brush and getting rid of the debris for the park to be usable again.

After clearing the park, the Committee partnered with the Callicoon Farmers Market to keep it mowed, and to weed-whack the patches of knotweed that grew up around the edges. And two years ago, a grant from Sullivan Renaissance paid for the benches and the patches of grass that are spread currently around the park.

Years of quiet work, countless volunteers, partnerships between numerous community organizations—it all culminated in a park that looks entirely natural, with all the work that went into it staying invisible.

The plantings throughout the streets of Callicoon are harder to mistake as natural. Flowers spring up from beds all over the hamlet: honeysuckle vine trails from a planter by the bench in Railroad Square; butterfly weed and spiky asters decorate the side of the library; sprays of native grasses wave from “the meadow” in front of the Wayne Bank and in planters by Catskill Provisions Distillery.

But the “quiet players” who make those plantings are no less quiet in their work there than with the park.

A crew of volunteers has to design, weed and maintain the gardens, a crew that includes Magaly Perez, a local painter and co-designer of the native perennial gardens.

Mikail Baptiste was another crucial player in the caretaking of the planters. He joined the beautification effort four years ago, working as a paid intern with a Sullivan Renaissance program. Each summer for four years, he watered all of the plants along Main Street, a job that took five or six hours, three days a week.

Mikail has since aged out of the internship program, says Karkula. “He’s such a sweet guy, he’s so devoted to what he does—over the course of four years this person who didn’t know anything about plants now knows so much.”

Before the plants can be maintained, they have to be bought. That’s where another community partner comes in—Agway (aka Delaware Valley Farm and Garden), the region’s hardware store and plant nursery, and its owners Rich and Disa.

“They contribute so much to the beautification effort,” says Karkula. They offer the Committee discounts on their flowers and on other supplies, allowing the grant money to go much further than it otherwise would.

And in the past five years, Agway has begun to stock more native flowers, helping the natural community with the same dedication as the human community of Callicoon.

For more photos of the Callicoon plantings, visit the photo galleries section of this website.


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