In 1992, a small team of volunteers — many of them retirees — came together with a mission to create 25 flower gardens in and around Latrobe to brighten the streets each spring. And now nearly 30 years later, volunteers are still caring for the Latrobe Mini-Gardens, which has now grown to more than 80 gardens and 90 individual sidewalk planters.
Founded by John L. Wandrisco, the Latrobe Mini-Gardens began with a handshake agreement with the city. When Ligonier Street was being resurfaced and the hidden trolley tracks removed from its center, the team of volunteers salvaged an abundant supply of heavy curb stones that stretched from Chestnut Street to beyond what was Latrobe Steel Company.
After cutting, the curbing provided rugged, attractive stone borders that can be seen today. The results and tremendous involvement of the community and visitors prompted volunteers to expand. By 1996, an additional 25 gardens were built.
Those gardens continue to thrive thanks to the commitment of volunteers. Recently, Mini-Garden volunteers have fanned out across Latrobe to prepare the soil and plant more than 19,000 bulbs so that the spring will be filled with vibrant, colorful and beautiful flowers.
In addition, volunteers will plant more than 300 flats of annuals, weed and water the gardens and planters.
Some of the volunteers have been involved a long time, including Master Gardeners David Moffat and Larry Miller, who serve as co-coordinators of the Mini-Gardens.
Earlier this week Larry Miller and his wife Sonnie, of Greensburg along with other volunteers planted tulip bulbs in the beds near the gazebo by Legion-Keener Park. The tulips, they explained, are mostly orange Emperor tulips with a border of blue Muscari a grape colored perennial.
Sonnie Miller explained that in 2008 when her husband retired, she got him involved in the project.
”I told him I have just the job for you — planting tulips in Latrobe,” she said.
As the gardens grow and the number of volunteers dwindle for any number of reasons, the project is in need for some new volunteers. One of the issues is the age of the volunteers they have now.
”I’m 79,” said Larry Miller. “I’m the youngest guy.”
Miller hopes that some community-minded individuals will step up to help the project continue even further into he future.
Anyone interested in volunteering and assisting should call Miller at 724-836-5560 or Moffat at 724-879-8212. Volunteers don’t have to be city residents.
In addition to volunteers, financial support is also a key component to the gardens’ future. A fundraising campaign is held annually for support for the Mini-Gardens is held to help defray the costs of summer annuals, tulip bulbs, truck maintenance and fuel, and other related costs. Donations can be mailed to the Latrobe Foundation Mini Garden Fund, P.O. Box 110, Latrobe, PA 15650.