Chester Historical Society flower gardens

I became president of the Chester Historical Society in 2006. At that time, there was an overgrown and rotted picket fence separating the historical society lawn from the cemetery. Grapevines had become established and were aggressively growing on the fence. A few young walnut trees had a good start. It was an awful looking mess. One of these walnut trees is now growing on my property.

Chester Historical Society garden with the urns and iron gate. Photo by Ron Patch
Chester Historical Society garden with the urns and iron gate. Photo by Ron Patch

I called on a few friends to help establish a flower garden. We removed the rotted fence and went to work. Clint Bigelow came down with his Kubota with backhoe. Clint excavated the flowerbed to the length and width you see today. At this same time, Clint reset the stone fence posts. They had begun to tilt.

Pret Warren came over with his rototiller and tilled what Clint had excavated. Pret made many passes preparing the flowerbed for Francine Provost, a master gardener.

Francine spent many hours on her hands and knees, removing tree roots, bricks, and preparing the soil. The bricks are from the old Chester Academy. I donated perennials I could spare. A call went out to members that we needed plants. We had a wonderful response from members. Andy Ojanen donated a pickup load of dry cow manure. Soon the garden began to take shape.

I used to have antiques shows on the front lawn of the historical society as a fundraiser. Angelica Dierks was set up at one of these shows selling her wares. She had an antique wrought iron gate for sale, which I bought.

Harry Goodell bought two pressure-treated, six-by-six-inch posts. Steve Lavoie dug holes for the gateposts. Steve and Harry set the posts in place, and hung the wrought iron gate. Harry made copper caps for the tops of the gateposts.

In the 1990s, I bought for my place, a pair of large Victorian cast iron garden urns at an auction in Plainfield, N.H. They never really fit my landscape so I took them to the historical society and placed them in front of the gate. I sold the urns several years ago to Skip at Bargain Corner. Skip has generously left them at the historical society for us to use.

Today, around the inside perimeter of the handicap ramp is a hosta bed. This was a problem area. When the ramp was built, the center area was filled with crushed rock. Francine knew how to make plants grow in this rocky area.

She used hemlock bark mulch and spread it over the rocks to about a foot deep. Then she dug holes in the mulch where she wanted to plant hostas. In these holes she mixed compost with potting soil, and planted the hostas. It worked perfectly. Today, the hostas are thriving.

As the old mulch decomposes, new mulch has to be added otherwise the rocks will resurface. In recent years Larry Wright has delivered mulch donated by Gilcris Enterprises in Proctorsville.

Francine maintained these flowerbeds for many years, retiring a couple years ago. Jen Rosenthal of “Gnarly Roots” took Francine’s place. Jen is a professional landscape artist who donates her time and skills to the historical society gardens.

Every spring, Jen and her crew make our gardens ready for the summer, topping off mulch, cutting fresh edges, plantings, etc. Throughout the summer, Jen maintains the gardens and in the fall prepares them for the winter. I noticed this year that Jen cut deeper edges around the flowerbed. It looks great.

Jen is very busy this year with her business so Chester Townscape planted the urns and our whiskey barrels with annuals for us. I think our flowerbeds are some of the prettier gardens in town. It’s not because of one person. It took everyone I mentioned. I thought it important to create a record of what we did and acknowledge those whom worked on this project. Thank you all.

  Instead of an old saying I want to tell another Jack Bittner story. Jack was having an auction one summer day where George and Mary Bittner live today. Jack had a great sense of humor. Jack was busy selling antiques when a train came up from Bellows Falls. The train sounded its horn as it approached town. Jack stopped selling to tell this story.

  “Years ago, a man’s wife ran off with the conductor of the train. Every time the man heard the train whistle, he began to cry. He thought the conductor was bringing his wife back.”

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