Cheektowaga man shares his love of gardening with inmates

When it comes to gardening, “We’re only limited by our imagination.” That’s what Tom Carlucci tells the inmates he teaches at Wyoming Correctional Facility.

Carlucci shared his own garden with visitors during the ninth annual  Snyder-CleveHill Garden View. The event was held  Sunday, July 9 in the the Snyder and Cleveland Hill neighborhoods. The garden walk was sponsored by Univera Healthcare and the Harlem Kensington Cleveland Community Association.

annuals lining walk in Cheektowaga NY

Carlucci is a vocational instructor in horticulture at the Wyoming Correctional Facility. The horticulture program is the most popular program at the facility and even has a waiting list, he said proudly.  Former inmates have written him letters saying that they have found jobs in horticulture after they were released.

window box in Cheektowaga NY

Even inmates who may not pursue horticulture as a vocation enjoy starting seeds and nurturing plants to maturity. Gardening can make a difference with even hardened criminals, who take pride in the work, he said.

After teaching horticulture all day, Carlucci is still glad to come home and garden.

“It doesn’t feel like work here (at home),” Carlucci said. “I talk all day. The inmates do the actual physical work. Hands-on is the best way to learn.”

During the Snyder-CleveHill Garden View, visitors were greeted by lush plantings in the front of the house. Lining the walk are alyssum and annual vinca, which you can see in the photo above right. Annual vinca looks like impatiens, but is a good choice for sunny spots. Every year Carlucci’s neighbors are eager to see what he will do along the walk because he changes it every year.

He used to change the window box, too, but people like the nonstop begonias so much he sticks with that. The photo above left is a close-up from the window box. The red flowers are the begonias and the little white flowers are euphorbia. On the left side of the photo you can see cascading grass that is very thin and has a tiny flower at the end of each blade. It is aptly named fiber optic grass.

pond in Cheektowaga NY
mist garden in Cheektowaga NY

In the back yard, Carlucci’s pond takes center stage. A path leads to the pond, and he boldly uses knee-high perennials along the path.

Behind the garden is a clever use of what would normally be an unused space, which you can see at left. The narrow area between the back of the garage and the fence is the mist garden, created by Carlucci’s partner, Don Weisansal. A fountain is at the rear of the long garden, mounted on a stockade fence that runs perpendicular to the fence along the back of the property. A mister provides moisture for shade plants and moss. What a cozy spot on a hot summer day!

Carlucci said he feeds his plants constantly. He uses fertilizer (at a lower dosage) every other watering.

backyard in Cheektowaga NY

As much fun as it is working in the garden, it’s great to relax in the yard, too.

“In the morning, I have my coffee in the yard,” Carlucci said, “and at night I bring out the TV. The water, textures, sun, birds– it’s all part of it. It’s a staycation.”

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