Citizen gardener tackles the Tisbury post office parking lot

Fed up with weeds and trash, Carol Salguero now spends a few hours each week to improve the shabby look of Five Corners.

Weeds are no match for Ms. Salguero when she has a hoe in her hands. — Photo by Tony Omer

Each week, Carol Salguero of West Tisbury puts her gardening skills to work in an effort to beautify the Vineyard Haven post office parking lot. It would seem an impossible task to grow anything in the narrow strip of abused land that separates the sidewalk from the congested parking lot adjacent to the busy Five Corners intersection.

But the woman does not mail it in. Each week, she devotes two hours on Wednesday mornings to the task.

Five years ago, tired of the shabby look of the Vineyard’s major point of entry, Vineyard Haven, Ms. Salguero took it upon herself to do something about it. Her mother, the late Jane Gannon, was an early member of the Friends of Tisbury, formed in 1963 to do similar work throughout the town, which included the post office. The group lost steam after almost 50 years, mostly through attrition, according to longtime member Kathy Ivory, now of Edgartown.

“I had a cumulative impression of getting off the ferry and feeling that the whole first sight of Vineyard Haven and Five Corners was so forlorn,” Ms. Salguero said. “It has a weedy, shabby I-don’t-care look about it. It looks like a town that doesn’t care.”

Other than the post office, Ms. Salguero said her gardening is limited to a small vegetable garden at home and a substantial area in her yard she has planted since building her house back in the woods of West Tisbury.

Her post office project began one Sunday, five years ago. She had some extra plants from her home gardening. “I couldn’t bear to throw them away, so I just took them down to the post office,” she said. That was the first of many subsequent trips.

“I didn’t ask for permission and I felt a little odd at first,” she said. She first tackled the strip along Beach Road, a small area, before expanding to work on the rest of the parking area. “From the very first year many people have stopped to say ‘thank you.’ Several people stopped to say they remembered when my mother worked on town gardens with the Friends.”

Ms. Salguero has relied on her own ingenuity to come up with materials and help. Several landscapers have donated materials over the years, Heather Gardens and Working Earth among them.  “Working Earth donated the lilies that are in bloom right now,” she said.

Her brother, Vineyard Haven boat builder Ross Gannon, helps out. He has trucked supplies and trimmed the trees along Lagoon Pond Road in front of the post office.

Working primarily by herself, plugging away week after week, she has been unable to keep up with the amount of work required to keep the lot in shape. Recently, acting on a suggestion, she approached Major Sterling Bishop, assistant deputy superintendent of human services at the Dukes County Jail and House of Corrections, about the possibility of getting some help.

Mr. Sterling oversees the inmate volunteer program at the jail. The program gives inmates who have proven their trustworthiness and who are close to re-entering society an opportunity to work in community service programs.

“Last week, two inmates volunteered,” Mr. Bishop told The Times, “and there may be three in the coming weeks.” Ms. Salguero appreciates the help doing some of the more strenuous jobs.

“It is great having some young muscle to do some of the things that are hard for me,” she said. “The three of us got a lot accomplished. We weeded and cleaned the large triangular area at the south end of the parking lot. They were so enthusiastic and said they would return.”

After working 15 years in institutional development and raising three children, Ms. Salguero went back to school to get her masters in public administration at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in 1989. The last of her children was off to college and she wanted to live abroad again as she had with her former husband, a Spaniard.

Ms. Salguero spent almost 13 years as a journalist in Bolivia and Peru, working as a stringer for US News and World Report, Bloomberg News, the Economist, and a London based mining journal called Metal Bulletin and returned to the Vineyard often for short stays before moving to the Vineyard full-time in the 2003. For ten years she covered the office for the boat building business her brother co-owns, Gannon and Benjamin.

Ms. Salguero has received little more than emotional support and encouragement from the postmasters whose cash-strapped budgets have little money for maintenance, but she thinks her work and the attention brought to the condition of the Five Corners area by the proposed Stop & Shop renovation, which she strongly endorsed, has pushed the post office into action.

“Carol is wonderful and a huge help,” Vineyard Haven postmaster Debbie Chickering told The Times.

Ms. Chickering said that she has received assurances from the post office district office in Boston that money has been allocated for cleaning both the front and back parking areas in the next couple of weeks. She said she expects fence repairs and tree trimming as well. A maintenance team comes down several times a year to take care of routine maintenance, she explained. She is expecting a new roof over the side entrance, with columns sometime this summer.

Ms. Salguero said she will continue her gardening beautification efforts Wednesdays, from 9 until 11 am, and would welcome volunteers and contributions of drought-tolerant plants, and other supplies.