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Urban oasis of Way’s Garden springing back to life

Oct 25, 2023

Aug 29, 2023

Way's Garden on West Fourth St., has recently seen many improvements., including this new fountain. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

J. Roman Way would probably give his nod of approval at the improvements made to the Williamsport garden, an urban oasis at West Fourth and Maynard streets aptly named after him.

Way’s Garden, where many go to simply relax, reflect on memories, or hold special events over the years, recently received significant upgrades, most of which would be suitable to the purpose of the garden envisioned by its founder (1848-1935) who had it constructed for his wife to view from their front promenade of their residence across the street.

The garden also once was the site of a grand residence for two families, Robert Faries and John White, according to Bob Esposito, former chairman of the Way’s Garden Commission.

Dedicated in 1913, the garden fell into disrepair over the years.

More repairs and replacements are planned for this fall and early next year, according to members of the Way’s Garden Commission, the group tasked with keeping the founder’s intention to keep the garden flourishing alive.

Way's Garden on West Fourth St., has recently seen many improvements., including signage to educate vistors about the plants and flowers. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

As summer fades, the garden’s many flowering plants are in their seasonal glory, bursting forth in preparation for changing their colors in the fall.

This happens amidst the shade of towering trees and accessible pathways, and the garden features a central white stone fountain encircled by new plantings.

The water flowed out of it in time for the Bald Eagle Art League Show, according to Paul Nyman, a member of the commission, a city native and supervisor in Loyalsock Township.

The city has once again become a place in which to find quiet solitude, the exact urban oasis that founder Way wanted thanks to the volunteers, members of the Lycoming Audubon Society, and city public works department employees.

Today, visitors can see the plants in full late-summer bloom, with various varieties of plant species displayed in all their colorful glory. Among these plants — the Black Tupelo or Black Gum, with amber leaves that burst out of green stalks.

Way's Garden on West Fourth St., has recently seen many improvements. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Also planted are mountain mint, common winterberry and the dwarf Joe Pye weed, which is a plant that grows in bunches and is sight to be seen.

The white oak and cranberry viburnum are not to be missed, either; all of these plants are identified with some information next to them courtesy of the Lycoming Audubon Society.

The city crew most recently lept to the call making immediate repairs to the brick and concrete pillar damaged in a hit-and-run accident.

Nyman discussed many of the other recent upgrades to Way’s Garden, as did Carl Bower, a commission member and assistant professor of the Department of Horticulture at Pennsylvania College of Technology, which is just two blocks from the garden itself.

Nyman said he would be remiss if he did not give his appreciation to Mayor Derek Slaughter, his administration and Williamsport City Council.

A bee sits on a flower on a Woodland Sunflower at Way's Garden on West Fourth St. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

This year, the city administration was given permission by council to release $175,000 in funds directed to the garden via the American Rescue Plan fund. The city received $25.4 million in ARPA funding and that is a considerable financial gift that will go into assuring the garden remains a centerpiece tourist attraction and a place of respite for residents and visitors alike. He also noted his gratitude to the Lycoming County Commissioners for the grant of $25,000 toward the garden and their continued commitment to ensuring it remains a bucolic attraction.

“The concrete is in and a fence around the perimeter is expected to be installed by (September through October),” according to Nyman and Bower.

“We have awesome volunteers who help out with the landscaping,” Nyman said.

To ensure the park is kept spotless, there will be new trash cans added that are made of metal with fittings and designed to blend in with the character of the garden, he said.

There are signs erected that warn any litter bugs that the fine by law is $900, according to the city ordinance.

For Bower, his devotion to the garden is intended to maintain its beauty.

His knowledge of plants only adds to its overall care and appearance.

“I think having a garden in the middle of the city is wonderful,” Bower said.

The plants are mostly perennials and shrubbery that is native to this part of Pennsylvania, he noted.

In late summer, for example, the white azaleas are like the puffy cumulus clouds in the blue sky. The hostas come out in the spring, he said.

The Sign Shop, owned by Dave Geise, president of the South Williamsport Borough Council, is working on providing a large entrance sign that will be in the form of an arch that will have the name and year of dedication, Bower said.

The volunteers, including Jennifer Dudek, who is a city employee, are the ones who do the weeding, add the mulch where needed, and make sure the garden is a showpiece of the city, Bower said.

“The commission could not do this without the donations, the commitment from the city and county government and the volunteers,” he said. “We are looking for any interested volunteers and anyone that is interested may contact the commission on its Facebook page.”

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