Hamptons Epicure: Garden School Day — Who Knew Generosity Pays?

Adding a batton to anchor plastic
Adding a batton to anchor plastic, Courtesy CCE

This is a story of transformative renewal, featuring a cast of hundreds, just in time for Easter. Naturally it takes place at the head of the river.

I didn’t have a great week. That’s not unusual at this time of year when I’m in the middle of spring cleaning.

As much as I reveled in my first Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Garden School Day last April, I wasn’t sure that I was up to making the trek to Riverhead on Saturday. Mulling it over, I took a look at the CCE website. The event was “sold out” in capital letters, so I thought I really should go, since my reserved spot could be preventing someone else from attending.

If I’d remembered that my little car needed gas, before I got into it the next morning, I would have been on time. When I arrived there was zero parking left in the lots. I drove behind the Riverhead Middle School and parked on a backstreet. The woman who parked in front of me referred to the area as “halfway to Montauk.”

It wasn’t an ideal day to be inside—it was gorgeous out—but as soon as I stepped into the school I was reminded of the special magic of this annual event.

In the Cafeteria at CCE Garden School Day
In the Cafeteria at CCE Garden School Day, Photo: Stacy Dermont

Caroline T. Kiang was there to greet me. Kiang founded the event in 1983 and she’s now “officially retired,” she told me with a giggle. No one cared that I was a little late or that I managed to get lost inside the building or that I’m a novice gardener. It was all smiles and supportive mottos for everyone who showed up. My first teacher of the day, Sherry Thomas, pointed out, “We support all kinds of good behavior.”

The CCE teaches master gardener classes each fall, and the graduates volunteer to teach us hopefuls every spring. There’s such a striking camaraderie among these gardeners, such a glowing fraternity, it’s infectious.

I’ll write about the classes that I took—Layered Gardening, Organic Vegetable Gardening and Growing Berries—in another column. They were all terrific!

Robin Simmen at CCE Garden School Day
Robin Simmen at CCE Garden School Day, Photo: Stacy Dermont

I had such a wonderful day, I wanted to give something back. I decided I’d definitely write about this year’s event and I started to look for a way to also make a monetary donation. After the classes there’s a big, free drawing of donated goods from retailers across the Island, held in the cafeteria. This year, there was also to be a drawing for some higher priced items. I stepped up to Robin Simmen, CCE’s new Community Horticulture Specialist and bought six tickets.

They drew for the big prizes first, and “543812” was announced on the mic. The number on the second ticket in my strip. Hmmm. If I just sat there, the friendly lady across the table might spot my winning ticket. If I hid it, we might be there for a long time, waiting for the winner to announce herself. So I reluctantly stood up and daintily waved my winning ticket at Simmen. The room went wild. As I said, it’s a very supportive crowd.

Simmen asked over the mic, “Wheelbarrow or hoophouse?” The black, shining wheelbarrow was there between us, I didn’t think it would fit into my Toyota and, anyway, I already have a wheelbarrow at home, so I shouted “Hoophouse! Thank you!” I imagined a flat packet of hoophouse materials, but I didn’t see one anywhere. Simmen said, “And here’s Dylan, who built the hoophouse!” and everyone applauded again. Built?!

Raffle Prizes at CCE Garden School Day
Raffle Prizes at CCE Garden School Day, Photo: Stacy Dermont

I went out into the hall with Dylan Licopoli to find an impressive 8’ long, 4’ wide, 4’ high structure. Oh my stars and garden!

As I write this, my husband is on his way to the CCE offices in Riverhead to retrieve the larger pieces of it. We can’t wait to get it growin’!

To see photos of the hoophouse and how to build your own, visit hogsli.com.

Caroline T. Kiang at CCE Garden School Day
Caroline T. Kiang at CCE Garden School Day, Photo: Stacy Dermont

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