Volunteering since 2001
Elaine Riberich’s dedication to stewarding community flower gardens is so great that she even convinced a city councilwoman to refurbish nearby benches so that visitors could sit and enjoy the lovely space in a neighborhood garden. A volunteer since 2001, Elaine stewards two gardens and creating beautiful landscapes for people to enjoy.
People are always appreciative and express their thanks in many ways. One year there were painted rocks put in my gardens!
What are your volunteer activities at WPC?
I am the garden steward for two WPC community gardens. One of the gardens is at the busy intersection of Beechwood & Saline & Hazelwood avenues and the other is next to Dippy, the dinosaur, at Forbes Avenue in Oakland, which is a very high traffic/people area. Usually at the beginning of spring, I clear weeds from sections of the garden that will not be planted. Where the flowers are to be planted, the Conservancy covers the ground with plastic preventing weeds from coming up between the flowers. Then a team of wonderful volunteers digs holes through the plastic and into the ground to insert the delicate, tiny annual plants. The whole garden area is painstakingly covered with mulch one bucket at a time!
For the rest of the summer, I am responsible for keeping these flowers healthy, alive and blooming by watering and weeding it all, and clearing the sidewalks of leaves and debris. In the fall, faithful volunteers pull out the dead plants and lift up all the plastic.
How did you become involved with WPC?
I knew about the WPC garden initiatives through my best girlfriend, Denise. She is an avid gardener and cared for the Beechwood garden for a few years when you had to stretch a water hose each time you watered it! Then she moved away from the area and asked if I would be interested in replacing her. Thank goodness, by that time, sprinklers were added! She found a WPC garden to care for where she moved and has since returned to Pittsburgh and takes care of yet another WPC garden!
How long have you been a volunteer with us and what motivates you to stay involved at WPC?
I have been tending the Beechwood garden since 2001 and the Forbes Avenue garden since around 2004. I love watching the small plants grow, creating a beautiful, colorful landscape for people to enjoy. I love being outdoors. The bending and exercise is tiresome but afterwards makes me feel much better! People are always appreciative and express their thanks in many ways. One year there were painted rocks put in my gardens!
Tell us about your favorite volunteer experience at WPC?
A few years ago, the City of Pittsburgh council woman, Erika Strassburger, stopped by the Oakland garden on our planting day. I contacted her the following week about the dilapidated wooden benches that line the community flower garden on one side. They desperately needed some repairs. She immediately had them refurbished and continues to have them checked and restored. In return, I clear the leaves dropped by the massive trees, and pick up garbage that accumulates on the sidewalk. I also wash the benches that the beautiful birds leave their droppings on while perching before flying to feed in the garden. It makes it a much more inviting spot to sit, reflect and eat while appreciating the beauty of this wonderful community open space called a flower garden!
What has surprised you most about working with WPC?
In 20 years, WPC has perfected the whole planting procedure. The process has been revamped from designing and ordering the flowers to finding the volunteers to plant them. Multiply that by 130 gardens and it is amazing that all of the planting gets done in one month’s time! Then there are the unexpected things that can happen, such as water problems. Everything has improved! Sprinkler systems have been installed, some with a timer. Prepping the garden now happens prior to planting day. Finding and scheduling volunteers, improving garden design, delivering plants and mulch – all of these processes have been fine tuned. And community gardens is not all the Conservancy does!
What do you do when you’re not volunteering?
I enjoy reading, gardening around my house, working on Ancestry.com profiles, attending my grandchildren’s ice hockey and soccer games and scouting events, cooking and baking, and sewing all kinds of things.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I lived in Bloomfield until I was 12 years old. We would ride our bikes into Oakland, leaving them unsecured at the entrance door to the Carnegie Library. Then we would visit the library and walk around the Carnegie Museum. At that time in the 1950s it was free admission. Now you know how old I am!