October 22, 2015

What They Wrought

Groton - it really is this beautiful
New England is full of beautiful towns.  They are small gems; vestiges of another time and certainly another century.  The best of these towns are beautiful because of civic pride.  The towns have families or institutions that seek to preserve the best of the past while accommodating the present and planning for the future.
Edmund Tarbell's 'In the Orchard'
is said to have been painted in Groton
Any short list of the most beautiful New England towns would include Groton, Massachusetts.  It is a village of 10,000 people roughly 40 miles from Boston’s Financial District.  The Nashua River flows through it; Gibbet Hill in the center of town provides beautiful vistas of the surrounding countryside.  Groton is or has been home to people as diverse as painter Edmund Tarbell, William Prescott (who commanded his troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill not to fire “until you see the whites of their eyes”), and rock musician J. Geils.
In short, Groton is the kind of town you would think doesn’t need improving.  Just say ‘no’ to all development, shut out the world, and enjoy the beauty.  That, of course, is a recipe for stagnation and inevitable decline.  For every Groton there are half a dozen sad New England towns that time passed by, leaving only decaying buildings and faded memories. 
Groton preserves its history, but is
hardly frozen in time.  The Boutwell

House was home to Massachusetts Gov. 
George Boutwell, who also served as
Treasury Secretary under Pres. Grant.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to see one of the reasons why Groton remains so beautiful.  The Groton Garden Club invited me to come talk about books at the town’s library and, in the course of that visit, I got to be an adjunct on a tour of wayside gardens the Club has created and, in all but one case, maintains.
‘Wayside garden’ is (at least to me) a collective term for everything from formal gardens to planted memorials and pocket parks.  A good wayside garden can be appreciated from an automobile passing by at 30 miles an hour.  It can also be a place you can walk in, explore, or sit and contemplate.
This tree and shrub garden honors
native son William Prescott
The Groton Garden Club maintains five sites around town.  Each one has a unique history and purpose.  There’s a tree and shrub garden honoring William Prescott of Bunker Hill fame.  It is simple, dignified, and well designed.  In the center of town is the Hollis Street triangle, which transforms what would otherwise be an undistinguished traffic island into a memorable patch of color and low-growing shrubs. 
This Blue Star Memorial By-Way
Marker is a tribute to those who
served in the Armed Forces
There’s also a Blue Star Memorial By-Way Marker on Sawyer Common.  For those not familiar with the Blue Star Marker program, it is a long-standing project of National Garden Clubs, Inc. The program encourages local garden clubs to place markers – typically bronze plaques mounted on stone – that honor those who have served in America’s armed forces.  The one placed by the Groton Garden Club in 2011 is surrounded by arborvitae and fothergilla that looks good anytime of the year, but is especially colorful in the autumn.  The marker sits in the shadow of a rare, mature black walnut tree.  A simple nearby stone bench provides a place to rest and remember.
The Groton Garden Club's work at
Boutwell House earned the club
recognition from National Garden
Clubs Inc. 
Next to the town library is a poignant memorial garden for which the Club has care and maintenance responsibility.  On September 11, 2001, Peter and Sue Hanson, and their daughter, Christine, of Groton boarded UA 175 for Los Angeles. The simple plaque is surrounded by lilacs and fall-blooming perennials (timed to coincide with the attack’s anniversary).  The memorial is also adjacent to the playground where Christine Hanson, who was not yet three years old, spent many afternoons of her too-short life.
The 'Four Corners' garden at the busy
intersection of two state highways
required seven months of state review
We also saw the Club’s handiwork at the Boutwell House, home of the Groton Historical Society.  It isn’t formally a Club-maintained site, but the Groton Garden Club designed and planted a garden there and, this year received the Kellogg Civic Achievement Award from National Garden Clubs, Inc.  The project involved beautifying the area around the handicapped-access ramps.  Such ramps are usually a no-man’s land of concrete, metal, and asphalt.  Aided by a new, well-designed ramp, the Club designed and installed a garden focusing in native shrubs.  The result is an eye-catching area that enhances the historic building while effectively ‘hiding’ the necessary ramp.

A few of the people responsible for
creating and maintaining those
gardens.  From left to right, Barbara,
Laura, (guest) Betty and Ann.
The Club’s most recent project is also its most ambitious.  While the center of Groton is filled with charming small shops and offices, there is also a development east of town with a supermarket, drug store, and other commercial activities.  The development sits at the junction of two state highways and, as a result, the easements are all state property with stringent restrictions on preserving sight lines and such.  A lesser club might have taken a pass on trying to create something beautiful for such a site, but the Groton Garden Club persevered through seven months of state review and approvals.  Last fall, the Club installed a superb, roughly 700-square-foot perennial garden in a triangular-shaped traffic island.  Instead of a flat expanse of grass (or, more likely, weeds) there’s a beautiful raised-bed garden that lends a sense of place to an otherwise anonymous suburban site.  The result is a model for other towns to emulate.  

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