BIDDEFORD — Anyone who has tried to tamp down or even rid a property of a vigorous, invasive plant called Japanese knotweed knows how difficult the pesky perennial can be.
It grows big and tall, with stalks that resemble bamboo, and if left unattended, can crowd out every other plant around and take over. The roots are very, very deep. And it is very prolific.
But on a recent Tuesday, some people were trying to get a handle on the growth, by using lopping shears to cut off knotweed close to the ground, to let other plants flourish.
The work was carried out by volunteers and staff with Apex Youth Connection at the Mission Hill senior housing property on Sullivan Street. Formerly part of the St. Andre Parish, the property has a large, fenced yard, with room for 40 community garden plots, a parking area, and green space. One fence line, where people believe fruit trees — perhaps cherry and plum — may be present, is choked with extremely tall knotweed.
Or it was, until Tuesday, July 7.
Kruze Maynard, 14, was enthusiastically doing his part, cutting the knotweed off at the base. He was joined by program volunteer Emily Lambdin, Apex outreach coordinator Tom Foley and Becca Cote, who operates Apex’s Trek 2 Connect program, that follows kids from grade 7 to 12, providing mentorship, community engagement, academic support, outdoor excursions and more.
“It’s fun,” said Maynard as he lopped off a big stalk and deposited it on a pile for later disposal.
Maynard has been part of the Trek 2 Connect group for the past couple of years.
“This has helped me out lots,” said Maynard, who said he’d experienced some past bullying and had low self-esteem, at times, before he joined. “My self-confidence has gone through the roof. It’s been super helpful.”
“My parents have noticed a difference in me,” he said. “You can be our own person.”
Trek 2 Connect teens have carried out several projects, undertaking lawn maintenance, ground clearing and chipping gigs, painting a mural, and more, said Cote. And there are other programs in the works: an upcoming event involves chatting with teens about vaping. There are also plans for teen volunteers to engage with seniors, Cote said.
In the community gardens, where area residents as well as seniors who live at the nearby apartment complex can plant flowers and vegetables, there are 40, 3-foot by 8-foot raised beds. The beds are separated from the parking lot by a pallet fence, painted by Trek 2 Connect volunteers earlier in the season.
Gardener Diane Scofield was applying coffee grounds to her flourishing garden bed, to enrich the soil. She is growing onions, radish, lettuce and some very large tomato plants, among other veggies.
“It’s fun, isn’t it,” she said of gardening.
Fellow gardener Lynn Criado agreed. She’s been gardening three years, growing basil, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes and celery this season.
“I love it, it’s fun and it keeps me busy,” she said.
Maynard, Cote, Foley and Lambdin continued to chop knotweed, letting the light into a space where there had been so little before.