PUNXSUTAWNEY â€” The plants that bring downtown Punxsutawney to life each summer â€” in the parking meter urns and planted barrels â€” can't take care of themselves. And this past summer, the Punxsutawney Garden Club entrusted the caretaking to its new, youngest member: 15-year-old Tommy Troutman.
And while Tommy is joined by his grandfather, Clarence "Butch" Troutman, on his Punxsutawney watering trips, he said it was from the other side of his family that his love for gardening was first sparked by his grandmother Debra Edgell.
"It all started with my grandma on my mom's side," he said. "She had a fern; she always loved plants. And I guess you could say I got â€˜the giftâ€™ from her. She taught me how to grow some things, and then after that, my grandpa (Butch) and I started a garden."
Butch added that he and Tommy have been gardening for some time, but said this was the first year they didn't have a garden due to some natural intervention from some of the well-known local wildlife.
"This is the first year since he was five years old that we didn't have a garden," Butch said. "The deer got to it last year and ate everything off the plants. Next year, we'll build a fence and rebuild the garden."
Tommy said the prize of the gardens they've had in the past hasn't been a flower, but a vegetable: zucchini.
"We grew zucchini a lot, and we ended up with 72 out of about five or six that we planted," he said. "We had one that grew two or three feet, and the thing is, we grow it and give it to our neighbor, who makes zucchini bread out of it."
Tommy said that his favorite part about his new project as plant waterer is watching the plants grow, but added that beautifying the community is certainly a perk.
"It's definitely fun to watch them grow a whole bunch," he said. "But on top of that, it's good for Punxsutawney as a town and for the businesses. If the town doesn't look great, then nothing happens here.
If it looks great, it bursts with activity and population."
Tommy said the route starts down in Barclay Square, where he and his grandfather water the plant boxes, and then they fill the pull-along tank and start their watering circuit.
"We go all the way down Main Street, and then we stop at McDonaldâ€™s to refill," he said. "We used to have to walk the whole way back and refill it at Barclay Square. So that saves us a lot of time. And before we had this big watering tank, they had to do it all one gallon at a time. So, I'm thankful for this."
Butch added that Tommy's work doesn't go unnoticed, as he is often complimented by folks walking through the downtown and by people from the local businesses who see him watering.
"He gets a lot of compliments," Butch said. "McDonaldâ€™s, IUP-Punxsy and some others have all said how nice his flowers look. I help him out, but he's the one who does it. When someone points out how good they look, he knows the compliments are for him."
And if the proof of his ability to maintain the plants isn't obvious by the way he's kept them in full bloom for the town to enjoy all summer, Garden Club member Gloria Kerr heaped on the praises of his work.
"Garden Club members met Tommy for the first time when he visited our plant sale tent during the Groundhog Festival week in July and surprised us by expressing an interest in becoming a member," she said.
"Because we were looking for a responsible member with the energy, time and interest in plants to take over the watering downtown, Tommy was a God-send. Due to very hot days and insufficient watering this summer, the downtown plants were sorely in need of a caring hand. Tommy enthusiastically came to the rescue with his grandfather, his love of plants and his pruning shears. He is our hero."
As the youngest member, Tommy says he has no problem fitting right in, and he even pointed out that his work with and for the club might help catapult him into the next phase of his life after high school.
"They said they'd never really even thought of having a younger member," he said. â€œAlong with loving to do it, it has the benefit of getting into the borough, and that can look good on a college application. I'm a sophomore, but I already know that I want to go to Penn State. They're at the top of the list."
While Tommy has had and will continue to gain lots of experience with his gardening, he and his grandfather both pointed out that gardening isn't just a hobby for many.
Tommy said there is a greenhouse project in the works to keep him involved throughout the winter, and added that between florists, greenhouses and farmers, there are plenty of opportunities to make gardening or some form of it a career.
"Agriculture isn't just about gardening," he said. "It can open up new branches into other things you enjoy."
Butch echoed Tommy's sentiment: "It certainly is more than just flowers. Our garden has had both worlds in it. We enjoy the vegetables and other plants, but we have always had flowers around them, too."
Tommy also helped with some of the other Garden Club projects, and he said he would encourage anyone with an interest to come out and check the club out.
"I would encourage people to go to the club meeting; they meet every first Tuesday of the month," he said. "They're hoping to get some more kids my age interested, but it's tough, because there are so many other things like computers and video games that keep the kids at home in front of their screens. I just want them to know there are other fun things like gardening, too."
Tommy added that the Garden Club has a variety of different projects throughout Punxsutawney, and said that the willing helpers would always be welcome.
And the way Tommy has kept the town looking beautiful all summer long, it is almost a sure thing that his smiling face will become a staple in the Punxsutawney gardening arena for some time to come.