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‘Rooted’ in the community

Marietta Loercher has cared for the same Barclay Farmstead plot for more than 40 years.

Photo courtesy of Stefani Kasdin.
Marietta and Lars Loercher work on their patch at Barclay Farmstead. Marietta has maintained a
garden at Barclay for more than 40 years.

If you’ve recently strolled through Barclay Farmstead for some fresh air and a reprieve from life in quarantine, you may have paused for a photo of the wildflowers.

Emma Waring, one of the community gardeners at Barclay, said in recent weeks she’s regularly been stopped and asked who is responsible for the vibrant display. 

“It’s really amazed me the amount of people this impacted,” Waring said. “People came there as an outlet, to walk or just relax. That area really attracted them.”

So, who is it tending to the flowers? That’d be 84-year-old Marietta Loercher, who has cared for the same plot at Barclay Farmstead for more than 40 years.

Loercher and her husband, Lars, moved to Cherry Hill in the ‘70s. A lifelong gardener, she learned how to plant and grow things from parents who were both raised on farms. During her formative years, Loercher’s father planted vegetables while her mother grew flowers.

When Loercher married, it was only natural she would want a garden of her own. She and Lars moved from a suburb of Pennsylvania to the  township,  but her backyard proved too shady to grow anything substantial. 

So in 1978, she joined the township’s Plant-A-Patch program at Barclay Farmstead. Every year, more than 100 gardeners are assigned plots where they plant, harvest and maintain the land at the historic location. Gardeners can begin planting in April and maintain their plot through October, when   the township plows the area.

Loercher’s plot is on the side closer to the woods, which wasn’t being plowed as well as the other areas. So she made a request that the township stop plowing her garden and the adjacent ones. They agreed. So, Loercher is one of the lucky few with year-round access to her plot.

Since the township stopped plowing, the wildflowers have taken over the front area of her garden. Loercher carefully pulls the weeds from the earth but lets the flowers grow freely. Just behind the flowers, she’s planted herbs, and further back, an array of vegetables.

Loercher is quick to joke about a plaque a friend gave her that reads,  “Gardening is cheaper than therapy.” She said in my ways, gardening has been her source of joy for all these years. While Loercher jokes about the plaque, for her, the words really do ring true — especially now.

“Gardening basically is therapy for me,” she noted. 

During the day, Loercher listens to the birds or the sound of children playing at the nearby playground. She enjoys watching a hummingbird land nearby to suck the nectar of her flowers, and if she’s at her plot later in the evening, she’ll listen to the chorus of frogs and crickets.

These are the sights and sounds that have brought her joy for more than 40 years of tending her Barclay garden. 

Loercher said to date, the plot has been nothing short of kind to her, and everything she’s planted has grown well. Because Barclay was once a farm the soil is rich and the full sun on her particular patch has yielded years of successful harvests. 

Despite needing a bit of assistance from a walker these days, Loercher is still putting in the hard work. She brings a milk crate with her to the plot that enables her to sit as she weeds, though this year, she asked for a bit of help.

Stefani Kasdin, a fellow gardener through Plant-A-Patch, said she struck up a relationship with the Loerchers around three years ago. She’d help the couple carry tools and heavier materials to and from their car. Kasdin added that Loercher has consistently impressed her with her breadth of gardening knowledge, but more so than that, Loercher’s passion for gardening is what stands out most.

“I started to admire [Marietta and Lars] for the love they have of gardening, and they’re willing to share that with me, which I really appreciate,” Kasdin said. 

The garden is now a bit more difficult to tend, but rather than give up the plot, Loercher approached Kasdin to ask if she might help. Kasdin happily agreed and suggested Waring, her friend and fellow gardener, to help out as well. So, this past season, the plot was divided into thirds.

Loercher said at its simplest, gardening is fun to do and yields visible rewards. She said as she’s getting older, it’s begun to feel a bit more like work, but she hasn’t lost the joy of it just yet.

So at 84 years old, she’s still getting her hands dirty and doesn’t plan to  stop anytime soon. 

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