Wellness, Creativity, and Friendship Grows in Smithville Community Gardens

Written by: Catherine Pressler

Community gardens associated with public libraries are a mostly forgotten history that dates back to the victory gardens of World War I and II. That synergy is alive and well in Bastrop County between the Smithville Public Library and the Smithville Community Gardens (SCG). Over the last decade-plus, Smithville Public Library has received various community grants that support activities at the Library, the Community Garden, and arts activities that take place at the community garden house at the site of the Community Garden — 107 SW 2nd Street in Smithville. Many thanks to funders such as St David’s Foundation, Capital Area Council of Governments, It’s Time Texas, and local donations.

The origin story of the garden is rich with the vision, kindness, and generosity of Judge Ron Jones and Mrs. Inez Green who offered to let the community use various city lots that they owned in the neighborhood near Mt Pilgrim Baptist Church and Brown Primary School to create gardens. These lots were the original nexus of the gardens that became Smithville Community Gardens, Jim Horton became the gardener-in-chief (! ;-)), and a community group was formed to financially support the gardens. A variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers were planted in the gardens. They were all grown for community members to harvest as they became mature on a first come basis.

Over the years that followed, the neighborhood lots that hosted various of the gardens were sold, so one by one, they were no longer available to the garden project. When the Smithville Food Pantry built a large new facility in 2019 that could better serve the community, the old pantry building, and the property around it, were offered to the SCG as a new home.

The Smithville Community Garden setting serves as a haven for the love of growing plants and growing creativity! In the garden’s front flower/herb bed is a life-size statue that evokes a sense that nurturing vegetation and flora blend seamlessly with art. The statue is a grandmotherly woman who appears to be harvesting produce accompanied by a little boy. It is a work of art created in concrete and fabric by Smithville artist Stephanie Shroyer, titled “Tillie and Mason”.

The gardens at the old Food Pantry location continue to serve the community as a location to harvest quality produce items and a super place to try out cooking with fresh herbs at home without the cost of purchasing them from the grocery store. The garden grows such herbs as thyme, oregano, sage, mint, salad burnet, dill, fennel, lemon balm, chives, basil, chamomile, and winter savory.

In the garden house, that used to be the old Food Pantry, there are weekly craft activities on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays that are open to a variety of ages – youth to adult. For a complete list of these activities, check out The Smithville Community Gardens page on Facebook.

Jim Horton, the gardener-in-chief of SCG, also manages a satellite community garden at the Smithville Church of Christ, 1416 E Whitehead St that is part of the SCG. This is not a project that can be sustained by one person. Further, the word “Community” in the title indicates that the gardens can be so much more when many hands and hearts are contributing to the care, energy, and stewardship of this verdant legacy that we can all agree is so valuable to sustain. 

Volunteer assistance is always needed. Jim has scheduled times at the garden every Tuesday at 4 pm, and Saturday at 9 am. If you are interested in volunteering to assist with watering, weeding, planting, and basic garden care, please contact Jim at 512-237-0793. Volunteering can be on a one-time or more basis. You can also sign up via the Bastrop County Cares Bastrop Connects volunteer website at https://bastropcountyconnects.galaxydigital.com/. Create a user profile, then select The Smithville Community Gardens under the choice of Agencies.

This valuable cultural resource is an enjoyable place to visit if you have not been there. It may inspire you to start a garden at your house or lead a team to organize a community garden at your church. And by volunteering at the Smithville Community Gardens with Jim, you will have access to ask a lot of questions of a very knowledgeable gardener. Yet if gardening is not your calling, let me suggest that there is a lovely shady place on the side of the garden house to peacefully sit and read a book while you enjoy smelling the herbs and hearing the birds.

photo of artichokes blooming
photo of bunny totem