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By Lynn White

As we reflect on the activities and accomplishments of the Garden Club during this past year, there is much to celebrate. Not the least of which was making it through a season of record-breaking heat and drought. Nonetheless, we persevered and worked hard to maintain our public gardens and move forward with many projects, both old and new, to benefit our community and the environment. Here is a brief summary of a season we can be proud of.

In APRIL we started the year voting in a full slate of officers. My heartfelt appreciation goes out to all those who took on responsibilities and worked so hard, often behind the scenes, to help us achieve goals and keep us growing and going! Our theme for the year was BE SOCIAL, BE FUN, and GET THINGS DONE! To that end, we partnered with ECSU in their Town Wide/Town Pride Day. Public gardens, pollinator pathways, and many other pockets of green got a spring clean-up.

MAY brought the debut of our new web site. See It still needs to be fully built out, and there are a few bugs to work out, but it is attractive and functional. The calendar has been especially helpful, keeping folks in the loop as to what is going on from month to month. And speaking of month to month, a wonderful newsletter is now coming out written by Barbara Wright. Its content is always meaningful and informative, and the pictures are fabulous. Faith Kenton organized planning and preparation for our first ever Spring Fair on the Garden on the Bridge, but, alas, the weather did not cooperate. Perhaps another year?

In May we also had a great time potting up the perennials in the planters along Main Street. The planters were structurally compromised and scheduled to be removed later in the year, but we wanted to salvage the plants. These plants were then featured at our Memorial Day weekend plant sale, which was extended to include not just Saturday but also Sunday at the Food Coop. It was a great success, attracting a steady stream of buyers bot days. We also took in about twice the amount we usually do, with the final total coming in at over $1,800.00. Many thanks to Faith Kenton for hosting this sale once again. We also enjoyed an Open Garden Tour this month at the home of Hedley Freake and Elizabeth Heubner. What a strong turnout of garden lovers, and what a beautiful property tucked away on South Street!

Meanwhile, the Friends of the Garden on the Bridge (a “branch” of the Garden Club – pun definitely intended) were planning more improvements to the Hillside area off Pleasant Street. In addition, major work in the arenas of Pollinator Pathways (Jean DeSmet) and Wildlife Habitat (Pam Wright) continued, along with maintenance of our public gardens. We are very grateful to all those enthusiasts who volunteered to be garden stewards this year: Carole Williamson (advising), Lynn White, Ursula Roskoski, Francis McGrath, Amy Marwood, Sue Nosal, Faith Kenton, Jana Roberson, Jean DeSmet, and Pam Wright.

On the first day of JUNE, workers arrived to remove the overgrown and potentially dangerous vegetation – mostly Virginia creeper, but also bittersweet, and even small trees – growing on the sides of the granite bridge that supports the Garden on the Bridge. The irrigation system at the Garden on the Bridge was reactivated after more than a year. Last but not least, we offered our first ever City Spaces Van Tour, put together by Faith Kenton, introducing participants to the gardens around town that we have dedicated ourselves to maintaining. It was so well-received that the Senior Center requested a repeat performance. Many thanks to Pam Wright, who served as MC for that tour.

One of the goals of the Friends has been to turn the Garden on the Bridge into a gathering place for events and performances. So it was very satisfying when that goal was reached in JULY with an inaugural “Concert at the AMP.” Singer/songwriter Kate Miller went on to give two more concerts, in August and September. Her performances were followed by Jay Daly in September and the group Beck and Call in October. This new venue for performances, with its rugged granite benches set on RR tracks, is being described as “industrial chic”.

Meanwhile, faithful volunteers spent hours maintaining the numerous public garden spaces in Willimantic. Native species were added to the Airline Trail and Whitewater Park, upgrading our pollinator pathways and promoting that old motto, “Keep Willy Wild.” Those efforts were supported through funding secured by the Friends of the Garden on the Bridge (an Urban Green and Community Garden grant from CT DEEP) and by Mike Clubertson and Jean DeSmet (a CT Urban Forest Council grant).

AUGUST brought yet another month of record heat and drought. Appropriately, activities of the club slowed down a bit, but behind the scenes, volunteers continued to pull weeds and trim plants that had browned out due to the drought. We did gather on a beautiful summer night for a “hangin’on the bridge” time of socializing and renewing friendships. The Kate Miller concert at the AMP drew a large and enthusiastic crowd.

Several long awaited, significant rainstorms came in SEPTEMBER, refreshing our thirsty land. Gardens began to get greener and flower with renewed vigor. We were treated to another wonderful Open Garden Tour, this time at the home of Carole Williamson. The plant varieties were amazing, the gardens were absolutely beautiful, and Carole’s stories were spellbinding! Thank you, Carol. At the AMP, several more gorgeous granite benches were installed. They are beautifully arranged and wonderfully functional.

Giving is what the Garden Club is all about. In OCTOBER we took advantage of an opportunity that came our way. One of the white birch trees along Main Street had to be removed, and sections of beautiful logs became available. The hydrangeas at the Garden on the Bridge were cut back, making armloads of flowers available. So, we gave back to the community in the form of a Holiday Swags and Logs event – a free to the public craft session with all materials provided for free by the club. Over two dozen people attended. Another October happening was the ECSU “Day of Caring,” when many teams of helpers from Eastern gave of their time and energy to help us in locations around town but most notably at the High Street Hillside, a gem of an urban forest filled with native plants.

Truly, this past season has been marked by the generosity of volunteers: ECSU students, UCONN students, Lion’s Club members, families, individuals, and even the One-to-the -Other Ministry Group from Oklahoma. We couldn’t have accomplished all that we did without them! We are beyond grateful for their assistance.

Where we go from here will be in the hands of compassionate and capable people who are concerned about the future of our community, with a focus on public gardens and environmental integrity. It was a pleasure to serve as your president this past year. I will remember this year with gratitude and a smile. Through all the seasons, our constant focus has been to be good stewards of our environment and draw as many people as possible into that mindset. What we have done, are doing, and will continue to do is having an impact – a very positive one. I will be moving to New Hampshire, but I know you will continue to BE SOCIAL, BE FUN, and GET THINGS DONE!

Respectfully submitted, Lynn White

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