Aaron Cain, @DarksideGardener on Instagram, can be found maintaining the gardens of Edmond by day. Aaron has served as the Park Maintenance Crew Manager of the west side of Edmond for six years. He is responsible for 23 flowerbeds at Mitch, Penick, Meadow Lakes, Westborough, Kelly and Centennial Parks, as well as medians, trees, and parking lots throughout Edmond. Aaron also brings his work home with a variety of indoor plants, a backyard pollinator garden, and a vegetable garden that provides food for his family and friends.
Secrets from the Gardener
According to Aaron, two factors largely contribute to a positive visitor experience: trash and trees. Aaron says, “My crew and I make sure the parks and parking lots are clear of any trash. We ensure there are no unsightly trees or dangling limbs on walking trails.” Aaron’s day-to-day role is tree and flower bed maintenance, irrigation and removal of invasive plants that compete for resources.
Flower beds offer pops of color that add to the experience but often aren’t appreciated at first glance. Aaron says, “It brings me a lot of joy when I see someone stop to admire the flowers or ask me a question about the plants while I’m working.” Aaron will often pull up a portion of the mature plant and encourage those interested to take it home and plant it. Aaron has years of experience planting in our climate. His top flowering picks are Catmint, Basil, Rudbeckia, and Salvia.
Primitive Trails at Mitch Park
Aaron went above and beyond the boundaries of his job when he came upon the idea for Primitive Trails at Mitch Park. Aaron kept grassy paths mowed to allow easy access for his crew but began to notice people venturing off the paved trails and ran with the idea.
The Primitive Trails offer off-trail adventures throughout Mitch Park. There are dozens of entrances to the trails. Some connect to the 3 miles of paved trails, and others loop around and wander, offering views of flower gardens, grassy fields, wooded areas and the OKC Bombing Memorial for Edmond victims. Newly designed wayfinding markers and maps for Mitch Park, including Primitive Trails, will be planted this Spring. Aaron hopes these trails inspire everyday exploration for Edmond citizens and visitors alike.
A friend to the smallest park visitors
Aaron considers the native bee population when planning what to plant. He says mason and bumble bees are the workhorses when it comes to pollination. While honey bees are very important, native bees have a more significant impact on our local ecosystem and food system. Aaron says, “If the native bees are happy, the honey bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will be happy, too.”
“I think about the whole experience, from the parking lot to the farthest edge of the trails. I try to have a plant that’s blooming almost year round at Mitch Park.” Aaron also works with the forestry department to incorporate specimen trees that add differential color and texture to the parks. “Ginkgo and Dawn Redwoods add a visual change with their vibrant gold leaves and variegated trunks. For that first sight of spring color, I use peach, crab apples, and pears. These really wow people, but also give an early food source for pollinators. ” Aaron cares for park visitors of all sizes, from humans to insects.