Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 29
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
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Vikki Caines Ensures That Her Secret Garden Flourishes at the Township’s Municipal Complex

Ellen Gilbert

“This is kind of a secret garden,” said Recreation Department Administrative Secretary Vikki Caines, leading a visitor past the thriving plants in a plot adjacent to the Recreation Department entrance.

While the plants in front are undeniably lovely and well-appreciated by visitors to the Community Park Pool and nearby municipal offices, the real wow factor kicks in as you follow the trail that leads down to the extended garden continuing behind the building. From the Route 206 vantage point, the colors and textures of the flowers and herbs, all lovingly tended by Ms. Caines, are a surprising treat.

“This is my give-back to the community,” explained Ms. Caines, who has been with the Recreation Department for 14 years. “I said, ‘hey, here’s a spot,’ and began planting and gardening. Then it just kept growing.”

Although Ms. Caines cited Michelle Obama as an inspiration, her admiration for local heroes and heroines led her to dub the garden “Marchand Meadow,” in honor of the former mayor. “She personified giving,” observed Ms. Caines. Ms. Marchand visits the garden “all the time,” often with her grandchildren in tow.

“Whenever I pass by I get a wonderful feeling,” reported Ms. Marchand. “Vikki works really hard; there’s a lot of weeding and watering to do.” She described finding Ms. Caines at work in the garden as late as 9 p.m. on some days.

Describing it as “Princeton’s botanical garden,” Ms. Marchand noted that it has a special resonance for her, because she was instrumental in the Township’s deer management program. “It’s now possible to have a garden in Princeton without having it decimated by animals,” she observed.

The garden’s location means that Township Police pass it regularly as they come and go from the Municipal building. Ms. Marchand reported that police officers have actually commented on the pleasure of seeing the flowers in bloom “whenever we we come in.“

As governing bodies like to report at municipal meetings, this project has not cost Princeton taxpayers a single cent. Ms. Caines provides the plants, which she buys on her own; “I’m always watching for plant sales.” Some plants have been donated by Ms. Caines’s “friends from platform tennis,” but this is really her show. She does all the planting, gardening, and watering on her own time, before and after the work day, and on weekends.

A jubilant stand of Shasta daisies is Ms. Caines’s favorite spot. The story is that she planted them at her home two years ago when her daughter got married. When the daisies became too profuse for her home garden, she brought them to Marchand Meadow. Now, she said, “every time I look out at them I think of my daughter in Florida, and hope that her life is as prosperous as this plant.”

“It is a secret garden,” agreed Ms. Marchand. “It’s not in your face, but it’s really beautiful.”

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