Norma has been “getting her fingers dirty” for years and we all get to share the beauty

How did you get started volunteering in the parks?

I was born and raised in Saint Paul in the Midway area and have always loved Saint Paul parks. I volunteered at the Japanese Garden at Como Park for 21 years. I started as a guide, and then I became a gardener’s aid. I was part of the Tuesday crew that worked with then gardener Joan Murphy.  I guess that was the first time I “got my fingers dirty” in a park!

During our time living in Woodbury, I worked with the Nordic Ski Center at Lake Elmo Preserve. After we moved to Ramsey Hill in 2015 and was getting to know the neighborhood, we ran across a volunteer working in a garden and the rest was history.

What do you do for your neighborhood parks?

Through the Ramsey Hill Association, I help keep up Boyd Park on Selby between Farrington and Virginia. The Association volunteers in six parks:  Boyd, Cochran, Summit Overlook, Nathan Hale, McQuillan, and the Holly Tot Lot. Each park has its own garden captain.

For a while I served as the Association’s Parks and Garden coordinator. I supported the garden captains by ordering plants and making sure they had what they needed.

It was in that role that I got to work with Tony Singerhouse from Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Natural Resources. He is wonderful! His knowledge, advice and support from his team make our work easier. I’ve always been impressed with the park staff and how much they accomplish with their limited budgets.

Now I’m back to my true pleasure of being “just a gardener.” It’s fun to get my fingers dirty again.

Talk to us about involving the community in your work.

We have over 50 volunteers – some just come on planting days, some weed and water every week. There’s even a man in the neighborhood who roams the area with his own garbage picker! That really instills pride in the area. The more people who are visible in a neighborhood, the more people you know by name, the safer that neighborhood is.

Working in the parks is just the best way to meet people. When you talk with a volunteer out there weeding and realize the gardens are maintained by neighbors, it changes how you view the park. You treat the space differently. We get so many new volunteers every year through people just seeing our volunteers at work. It’s an easy way to get involved.

We raise funds for the annuals and new plantings from our bi-annual Ramsey Hill Association house tour. But if you’re starting out as a volunteer in your own park, don’t think you need to buy all new plants. There is so much you can do with perennials and even dividing neighbors’ plants. The plantings at the Holly Tot Lot (next to one of the homes where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived as a young man) are mostly native plants that came from neighbor’s yards.

Tell us about your favorite parks.

I love all the little pocket parks and green spaces, they give the city so much character. I remember volunteering at Cochran Park during a Summit Avenue garden tour two summers ago. This group peered over the fence and asked “are we allowed to come in?” That park is a jewel that looks like an extension of one of the Victorian mansions on Summit – it is a tiny world apart in less than a city block.

We also ride all the bike trails! My new favorite is the connector on Wheelock Pkwy from Como to Phalen to the Gateway. During the pandemic, I’ve noticed so many neighbors getting bikes, and even electric bikes, and planning these 30-mile bike trips after not being on a bike since they were young. Our trail system is amazing – you can go over to Minneapolis along the Greenway and all along the Mississippi. It’s harder in the winter to get out, but now we cross-country ski the three park golf courses. We’re in parks almost every day – I just love how much our parks have to offer.

Volunteer in Saint Paul parks! From Wildlife Monitors to Park and Garden Stewards, there are ways to make a difference that connect you to nature. Learn more