Experienced "green thumbs" as well as horticultural newbies are taking advantage this summer of a new city-sponsored program that allows gardening on public land.

Experienced "green thumbs" as well as horticultural newbies are taking advantage this summer of a new city-sponsored program that allows gardening on public land.

The Pickerington Parks and Recreation Department kicked off a community garden program this month.

The program -- a first for the city -- is open to anyone. It allows people to rent garden plots of 20 feet by 15 feet or 40 feet by 15 feet.

"We are currently under way," said Don Ross, a recreation coordinator for the city of Pickerington. "There's probably room for about 70 plots, but this being our first year, we're doing about 16."

Across the country, community gardens are growing in popularity.

Many communities offer sites because some residents interested in horticulture don't have enough space for gardens at their homes or apartments. Ross said that's part of the rationale for the local program.

"The idea was begun in (Pickerington) city council," he said. "They suggested that as a good use of land we had available.

"It's an educational endeavor in its own right, but it's also a good use of land. We have a lot of people with small yards that are interested in doing something like this."

Pickerington's community gardens are located on land donated to the city along state Route 256, just east of the city's water tower, near its corporation line. Smaller garden plots are rented to city residents for $20, Non-residents are charged $25.

Larger plots are available for $40 for city residents and $50 for non-residents.

The city tills the land and prepares it for planting. The rest -- including watering and devising plans for warding off local wildlife -- is up to those who rent the spaces.

The program also has a community service component, Ross said, because most community gardeners have agreed to donate crops from at least one row of their gardens to the Pickerington Christian Ministerial Association Food Pantry, located at 15 E. Columbus St.

Due to the time of year, Ross said, it's likely most of the plots the city will rent this year already have been taken. However, he said additional space is available.

Information regarding the community gardens can be obtained by calling the parks department at (614) 833-2211, or by visiting its office at 51 E. Columbus St.

nellis@thisweeknews.com