The Story of the Garden
Following the founding of the GHS in 1991 the question of the Society’s contribution to the forthcoming 1997 Bicentennial of Georgeville, was of prime importance. Katherine Mackenzie, a director of the Society, proposed creating a pioneer garden to commemorate the early New Englanders who first settled the village. A skilled gardener herself, and a talented published botanical artist, Katherine was delegated the task of coordinating the design and creation of a period garden.
Joan Murray, a fellow director, leased a plot of land on her property to the Society for the garden. The rent was a mere dollar per year. This prime location in the heart of the village opposite the village green had been in earlier days the site of a prominent stagecoach inn. That establishment had been owned and managed by Levi Bigelow from 1841 to 1867. The GHS decided that the new garden would be named, appropriately, the Bigelow Pioneer Garden. Jacques Valiquette, the current owner of the land, now leases the site to the Society for the same token sum.
Katherine Mackenzie initiated the whole project, took up researching pioneer gardens and consulted with historic garden specialists in nearby New England. The final design consisted of an enclosed garden, formally laid out in four main beds. These beds were planted with the useful plants needed in pioneer households, remote from shops and pharmacies. The beds contained culinary plants, medicinal plants, household plants and a bed devoted to plants mentioned in the Bible – a traditional New England feature. A narrow border for flowers framed the garden.
Each year, the volunteer gardeners held plant sales to raise money for the plants and maintenance. They held a successful tour of several fine local gardens and even sold herbal vinegar made from the culinary herbs. It was always hoped that the garden could be self-supporting but this was not always possible. Katherine Mackenzie in a 1996 report wrote: “The garden is in its fourth summer and should be a very presentable garden for the Bicentennial.” And it was.
In 2003, a Vin d’honneur was held in the garden to mark its 10th anniversary. By then Katherine Mackenzie was living in a retirement home in Knowlton but the garden was in excellent condition thanks to her many years of dedication.
Care of the garden fell to a keen group of volunteers organized by GHS director Valerie Pasztor. Valerie organized the planting and maintenance and kept excellent records of the heritage garden plants. As well, she was a regular hands-on gardener herself.
As the years passed, the level of volunteerism began to wane, the plant sales declined, and the need for structural repairs became apparent. With the garden beginning to fade and looking its age, it was time to attract more active volunteers.
The group was revitalized, in time for the 20th anniversary of the garden in 2013. New volunteers were enlisted and the garden’s activities were restructured. Suzanne Marcil, an experienced and committed gardener, was named the coordinator in charge of planting. Fittingly, Valerie Pasztor was honoured and named “Gardener Emeritus.”
In 2013 and the following summer, a revitalization plan went into effect. Fences and benches were repaired, the arbors strengthened, the plant beds refurbished. An attractive cedar and pebble-stone bed was installed under the fence creating a tidy exterior. A handsome new sign was donated and installed near the boardwalk.
An appeal to the community for funds to support the 20th Anniversary revitalizations proved successful. Interested villagers donated funds, and materials, as well as their time and labour. It was the spirit of the village at its best.
Since then, improvements continue to enhance the appearance of the garden. The plant beds have been beautifully laid out, restored to their original geometric plan, and with fresh cedar-log edging installed. Added to the scene is a neat discrete, barn-siding shed donated by “two friends” of the garden. The new structure has proved quite useful for the volunteers to store their supplies and tools.
A novel addition to the site has been a beloved scarecrow Hannah, named after Levi Bigelow’s wife. Hannah presides over the garden hopefully deterring all flying creatures from ravaging the plants within the garden’s perimeter. Hannah’s appearance changes with the seasons, but she is always dressed appropriately. Over the year different themes are highlighted as well including Fall Harvest, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter.
The renewed group of hands-on gardeners continue to meet for work on Monday mornings during the season. They tend the garden and plan for future development. A larger group of ‘Friends’ is kept informed of developments, and waits in the wings with suggestions, encouragement and support.
Suzanne Marcil continues to serve as the garden’s head plant authority.