Members of Sisters Community Garden gathered Saturday for a work party and to bid retiring garden manager Robert “Bob” Lawton farewell.

A cold wind blew, interspersed with snatches of sun and sprinkles of snow. Lawton was presented with a memory book and a golden rake in thanks for all his help and commitment.

“I had a community garden plot in the Portland area; my mom was always a gardener,” Lawton told The Nugget. Growing up, he lived in West Linn, Oregon and Camas, Washington. “My dad worked at a paper mill,” he explained.

Central Oregon was always part of his family’s story. “My parents were both schoolteachers in the mid-1930s in Bend,” he elaborated. “This is where they got to know each other.”

Lawton and his wife lived in the Portland area and bought a second home in Sisters.

“I started seeing what I could grow in the community garden on Adams Street,” he said, “around 2008 maybe.”Two years later, the Lawtons moved to Sisters full-time.

Penny Elson, who frequently sits on the garden’s board of directors, described meeting Lawton along with Marvin Benson, back when the garden was moving from the site on Adams Street to its current location near the airport. Benson lived very close by.

“Marvin was our unofficial garden manager right off the bat because he lived right along here, and Bob was shadowing him the whole time on garden duties,” said Elson. “They pretty much took care of the garden.”

When Benson became ill, “Bob took over for Marvin and became the Greenhouse Cop—because if somebody’s tomatoes got over five or six feet, nastygrams would have to go out.

“Bob was always here, always working on equipment and fencing, irrigation,” she continued. “The berm became his baby; he ordered tree saplings to be planted on the berm. He was quite instrumental in the development of the garden.”

She was also impressed by his service on the garden’s board.

“We have always honored his opinion and his advice,” said Elson. “And we’re going to miss him.”

Lawton has enjoyed meeting the folks of Sisters Country at the garden.

“I find it to be a really great place to interact with people in the community, most of whom I wouldn’t otherwise rub shoulders with,” Lawton said. “Great people show up to have interest in gardening. That’s been the pleasure.”

“The events have always been fun,” he added. “Anvil Blasters, Benji Nagel, many of the local bands. Last year we had an Irish group with musicians from all over the place.”

Weed-whacking, berm-building, and fence-mending have all been part of the job. But Lawton’s biggest challenge by far has been critters.

“We have a fence that keeps the deer out. There are a lot of critters: bunnies, sage rats, marmots, and mice and chipmunks that like to eat fresh vegetables. They find that we have a smorgasbord!

“I’ve never lived or gardened in a place where there are so many pests that you’re working constantly to thwart, and this is such a short growing season,” Lawton said. “It’s a challenging endeavor, if you want to garden in this climate. It’s fun.”

To the tune of “When You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” gardeners sang a tribute to Bob written by Martha Lussenhop.

“Is it time to whack some grasses? Bob’s right there / Need to clear a lot of knapweed? Bob finds where... Need some tools to mend a fence? Bob will fetch ’em, he plans ahead / Just don’t forget to return them to the shed!”

As the song pointed out, Lawton’s outsized role will be filled not by merely one new manager.

“We’ve got three co-managers that are going to fill his shoes,” said Elson. “We have Cheryl Miller, Janie Boyl, and John Lancaster.”

Elson was pleased to report that the garden has 16 new members this year. The group looks forward to their annual all-gardeners meeting in April, and to resume hosting a fundraiser luncheon during Sisters Garden Club’s Quilts in the Garden Tour on July 7.

“Then of course we’ll do our Music in the Garden fundraiser in the summer,” she said.

Toni Del Guidice participated in Saturday’s work party. An original founder of the garden on Adams Street, “back in the early, early days, when the group met at City Hall,” Del Guidice is an artist and educator with experience in garden design.

Returning to the Sisters area after a number of years, on a retirement income, she found the real estate market going wild. She was thankful for the opportunity to purchase a Habitat for Humanity house but disappointed that it meant going without ample gardening space.

Enter Sisters Community Garden to fill the need. The location near the airport boasts far more infrastructure than the original garden Del Guidice remembered. Raised beds, irrigation, a cozy toolshed, fencing, and a beautiful greenhouse are among the amenities. Most of it was built and maintained with Lawton’s help.

“Anyone that has volunteered for this cause as long as Bob has deserves sainthood,” Del Guidice said.