Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Prentiss Tubby, Barbra Murphy, Fran Marquis and Robin Manson

By Jane Olsen

My name is Jane Olsen, I’m a junior at Bowdoin College and I worked at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. This post is part of my plotholder profiles series, a project where I have been delighted to get to know the over 82 plotholders at the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. Prentiss Tubby, Barbra Murphy, Fran Marquis and Robin Manson are all longtime plotholders at the Garden and active members of the community.

Prentiss Tubby

Prentiss Tubby tends to a plot neighboring mine and while we’ve shared a hello in passing, I was delighted to have the chance to get to know her more. Prentiss has lived in Maine for 30 years, has had a plot at TSCG since 2013, and has “always been a gardener.”  

When Prentiss first heard of the Garden’s founding in 2012, she was hesitant to secure a plot: “I thought that I didn’t need it because I have all this space at home. But I ultimately decided to because I think it’s a phenomenal community.” 

She was born in Vermont and moved to the Washington area when she was pretty young, recalling the influence of her mother’s values on her way of life. 

“My mother was an organic gardener before the phrase was being used.”

Not only did her mother introduce Prentiss to organic gardening and the concept of composting, she also encouraged her to give back to the community. This sparked her passion for helping others, which she now fulfills through Master Gardening. The Master Gardener Volunteers program through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension provides participants with around 40 hours of in-depth training in the art and science of horticulture and in return, trained Master Gardeners volunteer their time and expertise for community programs.

Prentiss chose to complete her certification in perennials because at the time she knew less about the topic than vegetable gardening, expressing to me that she believes “once we stop learning, we start to wither and I’m not ready to wither.”

The Master Gardener program certainly provides opportunities for gardeners to continue to gain and spread knowledge, as volunteers who wish to remain certified and active in the program must re-enroll annually and continue to volunteer at least 20 hours per year. 

While Prentiss contributes hundreds of hours to the BTLT Taking Root Plant Sale, she has also devoted time to mentoring gardeners at TSCG. She has mentored a number of New Mainers from the Republic of the Congo, one of whom brought five types of seeds to grow five different vegetables from home to be cultivated in Maine. 

Simultaneous to her social involvement with the Garden, Prentis also deeply values the space as a place of solace:

“I don’t mind if others are here but I love it when I come and nobody is here. It’s like a sanctuary. So quiet. I went through a really rough time last year and this became my place to get away. I have a wonderful garden at home but this was different. And I got away from everything that was weighing on me and I could come here.” 

Outside of gardening, Prentiss is an artist focused on landscape oil painting, a member of a flash fiction group in Brunswick, and is currently writing a memoir. She recently discovered a love for writing, and expressed her gratitude for discovering new passions:

“I’ve always written letters to the editor and that sort of thing. But I never realized that I really enjoy writing too, and at 79 I found that I love it, it makes you stretch your imagination.”

It’s never too late to make a new discovery. This summer I personally discovered a love for gardening. One of the things I appreciated most about talking with Prentiss was her value of the Garden at all stages of growth. She acknowledged the positive brought on by winter, recognizing the season as a time for rejuvenation and preparation for spring, as well as her affinity for the peak August season:

 “The thing I most look forward to each summer is my first tomato sandwich. It has to be very fresh,  right off the vine tomato that I sliced, two pieces of white bread, salt and pepper. And that’s it.” A perfect taste of a summer garden.

Barbra Murphy

Similar to Prentiss, Barbra Murphy has been a plot holder since the start of the Garden, “that first weekend that we laid everything out and put up the fences years ago,” and this year happens to be one of the lucky years she has secured two plots. Throughout her years at the Garden she has been a committed volunteer to the BTLT Taking Root Plant Sale and brought joy and experimentation to her plot.

This year, she is growing what she calls a ‘salsa garden’, with eight different kinds of peppers, six different kinds of tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, parsley, and more. She told me she usually makes around ten cases of salsa to give away. 

In the past she has taken on more complex endeavors, including growing gourds for her brother-in-law, who then uses the crop as a medium to make decorative masks. While Barbra expressed she enjoyed growing gourds for this project, she decided to experiment with growing another crop this year, as her brother-in-law still has many gourds from last year yet to be carved. This year she has replaced the gourd project by growing cucamelons, or Mexican sour gherkins that resemble tiny watermelons. 

“These are the type of plants that grow to form every year so if you save the seeds, you can plant them. I think I only saved four cucumbers, harvested the seeds and dried them over the winter. I planted them all in the spring and every single one of them germinated. So what I’m gonna do is tell people that anytime you can just go and pick some because there’s going to be way too many.”

In addition to growing cucamelons, Barbra also enjoys growing edible flowers, to put in salads or mix into salves. She has acquired a lot of knowledge from volunteering at the BTLT Taking Root Plant Sale and early in the season, she is sometimes so busy with propagation and transplanting that she is delayed in starting her plot. 

“I feel really lucky that this Garden is here. It is nice to connect with the community of people. I do even though I like being here alone. I really like getting to know the people who are here and who volunteer. I think the Land Trust has a pretty good job with the orientation to the garden, and providing gardening supplies like tools and compost. It makes it pretty easy for people to grow here”.

Barbra grew up on the east coast and has lived in Maine for most of her life, but it wasn’t until she moved to California and worked for gardeners that she really learned how to garden. Though she expressed that her love for the activity began from a young age:

“I’ve always been interested in gardening ever since I was a little kid and I have no idea why, because nobody else in my family was. When I was like in elementary school I would get these things at the hardware store that were called punch and grow, it was sort of like a mini greenhouse, and I grew marigolds and tomatoes and petunias too. I don’t know why I just always really liked gardening even though my family wasn’t into it.”

Nowadays, she is lucky to have both a plot at TSCG and one in her neighborhood as well. So even though Barbra has space to garden close to home, she is still drawn to TSCG for the community. 

Fran Marquis and Robin Manson

Another pair of plotholders that have been at the Garden since the start, I first met Fran and Robin, while tending to my tomatoes, as they have the plot beside me. Fran graciously assisted me in supporting one of my tilted plants. It was a Sunday morning and the couple had been visiting their plot with a friend, Beatrice. While they always thought gardening was interesting, Fran and Robin lived in apartments for much of their life, restricting their ability to have a garden. They secured a plot at TSCG at its founding and have appreciated the gradual transformations throughout the years. Now retired, they have had more time to tend to the Garden and observe the more subtle changes.

“The improvements that happen bit by bit, don’t happen overnight. It’s been good for us to be retired and be able to really concentrate on all this and put more time into our gardens. I feel like we’re farmers now because that’s what we do all day,” said Fran.

 In their garden at home, one of their dogs would even join the fun of harvesting and pull pea pods right off the vines and eat them. One of Fran and Robin’s favorite parts of gardening is harvesting potatoes. With potato beetles to fight off, this is not easy without an abundance of time. But Fran and Robin have persevered because of the joy that harvesting brings them. 

“I like harvesting, pulling out the carrots, and beets, getting my hands in the soil, it’s just a miracle. You plant those little tiny seeds and cover them up with water and pretty soon you have lovely things to eat,” Fran expressed. This joy seems to be infectious, with Robin adding she enjoys growing potatoes “just to watch Fran have fun.”

“It’s impossible for me to pick one thing that’s my favorite. Planning is fun, planting is fun, harvesting is fun, nurturing is fun, talking to the people is fun. Looking at other people’s gardens is fun, exchanging produce with other people is fun, and learning from them. Meeting people that are your plot neighbors that you didn’t even know were your neighbors, just being part of this community thing that is just here. I just think we’re so lucky, I just want to make sure that it continues” Fran continued.

In addition to tending to their own plot, Fran and Robin enjoy the volunteering commitment that comes with a plot at the Garden. Though they have supported Land Trust’s Taking Root Plant Sale in past years, they primarily fulfill their hours as members of the mowing team, which includes around five people, with a rotation of around three mows per person throughout the season. Perhaps the pair first became interested in mowing because of Robin’s childhood memories of assisting her dad as a child, or maybe the pair was simply drawn to the satisfaction of the activity:

“We love to mow, It’s rewarding because after you mow we look around and it makes this place look really nice. You want it to look nice when visitors come here to see it,” said Fran.

Sharing the joy of the Garden with others is another reason the couple loves visiting TSCG. Fran expressed her enthusiasm in bringing friends and family to her plot: 

“Giving somebody the opportunity to come and actually get their hands in the dirt when they really haven’t done it much before and then to see the excitement. It just makes you so happy to see somebody discover that [love for gardening] because it’s a miracle.” 

A friend they have shared this joy for gardening with has been Beatrice, who after having contributed a significant effort to their plot this year, is considering getting a plot of her own next summer!

One of my favorite things about the Garden has been witnessing how various plot holders like Fran and Robin pass on their joy for the space to those around them, and those outside the walls of the Garden.