By REBECCA HERSH
Digging beneath the Route 1 and Route 27 congested suburban landscape of Edison, one discovers an Edison that might make some green with envy – an Edison that reflects New Jersey’s nickname “The Garden State.”
For seven decades, Edison residents have nurtured a garden project called the Terra Nova Garden Club that provides residents with a colorful, fragrant, sustainable, and spirit re-invigorating environment.
In keeping with its mission to educate others about the joys and value of horticulture, the Garden Club sponsors an annual scholarship prize for a young person in the community. The individual has to be graduating from an Edison high school with plans to attend college to study landscape design, gardening, horticulture, ecology or environmental studies.
On June 8, Jane Bianco, the president of the Terra Nova Garden Club of Edison, was expected to award the Terra Nova Garden Club’s Louis J. Kuhn Scholarship to Nina Trousdale, a “most deserving” John P. Stevens High School graduating senior who will be attending University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign in order to pursue a career in environmental engineering.
“I found my passion for horticulture when I was a Girl Scout working towards my Gold Award project. It made so much sense to me that the world is beautiful and we through conservation efforts can make it more beautiful. I plan to major in environmental engineering because of my desire to protect natural habitats, parks and green spaces,” Nina said.
The scholarship is awarded on the basis of a teacher/mentor recommendation, a short personal essay, and a track record of community service work – all demonstrating a significant interest in agriculture, horticulture and ecology.
“The Thomas Edison Center is where I have been volunteering for two years,” Nina said.
She said she has found it very satisfying to spend her afternoons not only giving tours of the center, but also “digging earth to make space for flowers and placing them in correct positions and removing weeds at garden events as well as watering plants on a regular basis.”
The chairperson of the Garden Club’s scholarship initiative is Gloria Dittman, who in September will be celebrating her 50th year as a member of Terra Nova. One might describe Dittman as Terra Nova’s nutrient that sustains and nourishes the club’s outreach initiatives and has made them grow each year.
The recent May fundraiser at which members sold their plantings to raise money for the scholarship fund netted $1,500 – more money than the club ever raised previously from this fundraiser.
“All of those plants came from our own gardens in Edison and for the most part will be replanted in gardens in Edison,” Dittman said.
The investment in the community goes far beyond the life of those plants, however, because each year the money raised in the plant sale is then planted toward an Edison student’s dream to pursue a career in horticulture.
Dittman noted that the prize was named after Kuhn, an “incredibly dedicated and much loved Garden Club volunteer who died in 2020.”
Dittman also has been the force behind other Garden Club projects such as Edison’s role in the National Wreaths Across American Project to honor America’s deceased military heroes, especially during the Christmas season. The mission of this national project is to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of the nation’s service men and women by coordinating Christmas wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 2,100 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.
The local initiatives, such as the one that Dittman organized prior to the pandemic, raised money to purchase the wreaths and organized a ceremony with bagpipe music, speakers and wreath placement on the graves of deceased soldiers – a ceremony dubbed Memorial Day in December. She may try to revive the wreath-laying service for this December, she said.
Dittman never has allowed any grass to grow under her feet, so to speak, because she is always moving forward with decisive action on community building programs. In 2013, she took over the reigns of the Edison Arts Society (EAS), and in 2018 EAS celebrated its 20 years of supporting local artists through visual art exhibits at the EAS Gallery through poetry readings, music concerts, dance programs and art literature seminars.
An upcoming EAS program may bring together Dittman’s two community service commitments towards the arts and gardens. The EAS is planning to host a decorated piano exhibit on Amboy Avenue – artists will be given a stipend to paint a piano, but have one constraining artistic element – all artwork painted on the pianos has to feature flowers.
“But right now my priority is my garden, the Terra Nova Garden Club, and the club’s scholarship winner Nina Trousdale, who will receive her award on June 8 at 3:30 p.m. on the grounds of the North Edison Library,” Dittman said.