The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 2, 2006


The Carlisle Garden Club helps our gardens grow

Memorial Day weekend, when the sun finally shone on Carlisle, hoes, trowels and gardening gloves came out of hibernation, and gardens all over town began to take shape. Tomato plants were set out, annuals presented a riot of color and parking spots at local nurseries were hard to find. The growing season — all too brief in our part of the planet — is in full swing, and the Carlisle Garden Club is at the center of much of the gardening activity in town (

For example, on Monday, June 12, at 7 p.m., the Garden Club will present a timely program called "Gardening for Butterflies and Hummingbirds." Horticulturalist Suzanne Mahler will suggest plants and flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other colorful visitors to local gardens. For information on location of the program, e-mail Previous spring programs were on perennials presented by Leo Blanchette of Blanchette Gardens in Carlisle and a noted New England expert on magnolia culture spoke on growing magnolias. In addition, the annual Plant Sale was held on May 20 at its new location on the Town Common and was a great success.

The Garden Club is instrumental in beautifying the Town of Carlisle, which many of us take for granted. Club members plant and maintain the small garden at the town rotary, plant bulbs on the Town Common, maintain (i.e., weed!) the herb garden at the Historical Society's Heald House and provide flowers to the Gleason Library. At Christmas time, the Garden Club shares its wreath-making expertise with the Council on Aging, makes wreaths for Town Hall offices, and at various times of the year organizes plant and garden projects with students at the Carlisle School, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. It has also provided support for the Town Common Committee and the "Center Park" project, the small park next to Ferns.

The Garden Club was founded in 1959 by a group of women whose children were involved in 4-H. Its first president, Marge Burton, who now lives in Ayer, Mass., is still a member and often helps out with the plant sales and Garden Tours. (For more on the history of the Club and an interview with Marge Burton, see "Carlisle Garden Club focuses on civics, learning, fun" in the May 30, 2003, Mosquito).

Preparing for the Plant Sale are, left to right, Jane Anderson, Joan Allen, Alison Saylor, Carol Nathan and, in front, Ginny Lamere. (Photo by Cecile Sandwen)

A growing membership

One goal of its current president, Cecile Sandwen, is to boost membership. For several years membership in the Garden Club dwindled through attrition, which had a negative effect on its ability to continue projects and activities. "We found the club had a bit of a reputation as a closed, 'tea and white gloves' kind of organization," said Sandwen. "Membership was an area we hadn't focused on, and "interested people didn't always get the speedy responses and warm receptions they might have hoped for," she added. Happily, as of September, an active membership committee is in place that plans events, welcomes visitors and responds to inquiries. Membership has grown from 35 to 50, bringing with it new energy, ideas and enthusiasm. Members include knowledgeable gardeners willing to share, professional landscape architects and novices hoping for the perfect Carlisle garden.

Asked whether current members are more interested in flowers or vegetables, Sandwen replied, "More members are into landscape gardening, but there is a significant and enthusiastic sub-group of vegetable gardeners." Each year in March, members meet for a "seed-swap" where they trade tips on what worked and didn't work the previous year. One recommendation passed on to Sandwen at the seed swap was an economical, reliable source for seeds — Pinetree Seeds ( — which sells small quantities of seeds "usually for $1 per pack. The company she had previously dealt with sold larger quantities than her family needed. She also buys organic fertilizers and pest control products from Gardens Alive (

In her own garden this year Sandwen is "doing a new hot color tropical-looking garden in yellows, reds and oranges. In addition to the rudbeckia, lilies, sedum and gaillardia that are already there, I'm adding spring bulbs such as canna lilies, gladioli, dahlias and crocosmia, and edging in various colors of nasturtium." Former Garden Club president and current horticultural expert Alison Saylor is planning a blue and white garden for her daughter Carly's wedding on June 24. Saylor had a year and a half to plan for the wedding; she has planted angelonia (white), calibrachoa (blue), bacopa (white) and marguerites "for a touch of yellow," Saylor said.

One innovation this summer is the Garden Club's plot at Foss Farm. Leslie Thomas and other Garden Club members will be working with interested kids in town to raise vegetables and flowers, possibly for sale at the Farmers Market.

Challenges of Carlisle gardening

Gardening in Carlisle presents a number of challenges, starting with removing all those rocks, boulders and stones before preparing the garden bed. Experienced gardeners are well aware of the army of "critters" and insect pests that are poised to attack those juicy tomatoes, tender shoots and buds and plump raspberries, spelling heartbreak for the hard-working gardener. Deer, voles, chipmunks, woodchucks — we have them all. Deer are especially damaging because they attack valuable shrubs, such as arborvitae, rhododendrons, yews and holly.

For new Carlisle gardeners, learning what grows well here can also be a challenge, admits Sandwen, "especially as nurseries sell many plants that are beautiful but only marginally hardy." Many of our homes have shady, woodland-type gardens that are a challenge if you like colorful flowers. Fortunately, nurseries in town specialize in plants suitable for these conditions. Sandwen suggests that people look around at what's growing well in their neighbors' gardens. There are many, many plants that are beautiful, tough and well-adapted to our conditions.

We will have to wait another year to visit many of our neighbors' gardens on the very popular Carlisle Country Gardens Tour, which takes place every other year. It showcases six to eight Carlisle gardens of various styles and the Garden Club is already at work on next summer's event, scheduled for June 15 and 16, 2007. Tour organizers are currently seeking gardens to be on the tour, because they make their selections a year ahead of time so they can see the gardens as they will appear in June. All sorts of gardens are considered, not just perfectly manicured lawns but those that are "cottagey, whimsical, natural, eclectic, structural or artistic." To suggest a garden for next year's tour, contact Susan Pepple ( or phone 978-371-2674.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito