EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 7, 2013

Hampstead gardeners work to make their town prettier

By Alex Lippa

---- — HAMPSTEAD — They’ve been in town for more than 30 years, and people can’t say enough about the impact they have on the community.

“It’s amazing all they do,” Selectman Richard Hartung said. “They’re absolutely marvelous.”

Hartung is referring to the Hampstead Garden Club, founded in 1979. Members work around the clock to make the town a more visually appealing place.

The 50 members tend to seven gardens around town, but three really stand out.

“There’s Ordway Park, the storybook garden at the library, and what we call the sign island right in the middle of town,” membership director Phyllis Leocha said. “We just all love contributing to the gardening in town and being able to learn while we do it.”

Ordway Park is the biggest garden the members plant and maintain. The garden, located at the corner of Depot Road and Main Street, features a commemorative walkway surrounding the flowers.

The storybook garden behind Hampstead Public Library is popular with children and adults. The perennial garden was completed in 1995 with help from private donations.

“We use it to read to kids,” Hampstead Public Library director Debra Hiett said. “Sometimes people will bring their own books and just ponder and read in there. It’s a lovely place.”

It was tailored after gardens in popular children’s books such as “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The Rose in My Garden.”

“They are here all the time,” Hiett said of the club members. “They put so much time and effort when it comes to beautifying the garden.”

Whether it’s weeding or watering, volunteers are there several times a week.

“It’s just such a dedicated group of people,” she said.

Garden Club member Joanne VanderSande said she goes anytime she is able to work on the gardens; it brings a smile to her face.

“I see members bring their lunch there,” she said. “It’s a great way to get away from everything and enjoy some peaceful time.”

The gardeners’ efforts are visible throughout town. Erika Wells of Hampstead goes for a run every morning. Everywhere she goes, she said, the garden club has made its mark.

“It makes my town so much better,” Wells said. “They do a splendid job with everything they do.”

And they do it in near anonymity.

“I’ve lived here for 22 years, but I still don’t even know who many of the garden club members are,” she said. “They don’t do it for the notoriety.”

Town road agent Jon Worthen said the garden club makes life easier on his department, too.

“It helps our building and grounds guy,” he said. “We try to help each other out. If they need a load of something, sometimes we can provide some assistance. It’s a partnership in a way.”

But the club does more than just tend gardens around town. Each year, they host a plant sale which is their primary source of revenue.

“People come out of the woodwork for it,” Leocha said. “We get people lined up an hour before we open.”

The group raised more than $4,000 in this year’s fundraiser. The 1,200 plants sold out within 40 minutes.

“We do it to just replenish our budget,” VanderSande said. “We’ll take plants from the community gardens or even our own gardens.”

Each year around the holidays, the group hosts its Deck the Halls program. Members create wreaths and garlands, then spend one night hanging the decorations around town.

“I always love seeing them on the Meeting House and on Town Hall,” Wells said. “The greenery is just so pretty.”

The club also hosts an annual tour of the seven gardens members maintain.

“I’ve had people come up from Boston who have done the Beacon Hill garden tour, and they say ours compare right up there with them,” Leocha said.

The club meets once a month. They organize trips, listen to guest speakers and give each other some gardening tips.

“There’s a camaraderie to it,” Leocha said. “It’s such an interesting group. I didn’t really know anything about gardening when I joined, but I love it.”

Linda Winmill of Hampstead has been a longtime member of the club and said the gardens have a local feel to them.

“They just have a reflective, beautiful, New England quality to them,” she said. “It just feels good to be a part of them.”

For Leocha, she just loves the feedback she gets from the community

“Whenever we’re working on a garden, we are so sweaty, but people are beeping at us and encouraging us on,” she said. “I’m always yelling at them to join us.”

For a $15 annual fee, membership is open to any man or woman from Hampstead and the surrounding area. They meet at 7 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month at Hampstead Congregational Church.