by Jenevieve Hughes | August 1, 2014
What’s better than fresh air, sunshine, and friendship?
This summer we’re going behind the scenes with some of the dedicated volunteer teams that maintain our beautiful historic gardens throughout the state. First up? Let’s head over to the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme for a candid photo tour with the museum’s fabulous Garden Gang!
I caught up with this hard-working group during one of its weekly garden maintenance sessions, where I witnessed the intricate maneuvers involved in maintaining a garden at the height of mid-summer when both plants and visitors are at their peek.
Whether weeding, watering, digging, or pruning, each member of the group has an integral role in maintaining the museum’s beautiful landscape. And in their matching blue “Garden Gang” t-shirts, they look good doing it too!
Within the group, there are several areas of expertise, all of which come in handy when working in a landscape that blends different types of floriculture, heirloom roses, vegetables, and even fruit trees.
These garden elements are seamlessly integrated by the group’s leader, Sheila Wertheimer, a landscape historian and designer who has been involved with the restoration of this landscape since the 1970s.
The museum’s gardens of course reflect the vision of Miss Florence herself, proprietress of the boarding house which formed a central hub for the Impressionists of the Lyme Art Colony at the turn of the century.
Most recently, the restoration of this landscape has included the addition of an orchard situated just past the rose arbor behind the education barn, where the land slopes gently down towards the Lieutenant River.
Today, a vegetable garden provides a strong educational focal point amidst the flowering plants.
The Garden Gang applies a fish oil emulsion to the soil to ensure that it maintains key nutrients, and after harvest, any surplus veggies are donated to the local food pantry.
Particularly striking are these giant horseradish leaves, which dwarf the rhubarb and cardunes beside it (along with all the other veggies and herbs, including rue, blood sorrel, batavian carrots, giant red mustard, cress, sage, and thyme).
At least one student in this school group was curious about the use of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) branches throughout the gardens to stake both vegetables and flowering plants. The method is historical, and when used for climbing roses, the effect is exquisite.
This lively Garden Gang knows how to work hard and how to have fun too.
Weekly work sessions are followed by refreshments in the barn, and the group recently enjoyed an afternoon visit to a local vineyard together. There’s always a little time to swap stories and gardening tips.
We’ll check in with this Garden Gang again later in the season, and next time, we’ll also speak with Sheila to learn more about Miss Florence’s original garden plans and how this landscape has evolved over the decades.
Meanwhile, you can bet that this dedicated team will have their trowels to the ground keeping everything in tip top shape for your next visit.
But right now… it’s time for lunch!