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“I’ve always had a fondness for snow,” said John Szoke with that secret glance at Joan that all couples know. He touched her with his eyes and, of course, got the response he was looking for. You see, the two met during the historic Blizzard of ‘78! Both had lived in an apartment complex in Worcester at that time but were unknown to each other. After the days of snow finally stopped, Joan went out to her car, only to find it buried in literally eight feet of snow! Standing there deciding what to do, John appeared with his shovel, and the rest as they say is history. The two have been digging together ever since! Only now they dig in the rich soil of their beautiful three and a quarter acre yard here in Windham.
Let’s take a walk through the Szoke garden, shall we?! We begin with a row of giant lilac. “We put them in because they are so fragrant and because they are the state flower,” said Joan. The lilacs combine with a shady-mixed border that includes monks hood, ligularia, clematis, and roses. Moving on, we find a circular sundial garden. This boasts blue mist spirea, Persian coneflower, iris, penstemon, and various colored daylilies which surround grass that John hates to mow! Also, there is variegated dogwood, turtlehead, and a large mock orange tree that smells delicious!
Landing then at the patio garden surrounded by roses, azaleas, and queen of the prairie, a North American native, you can sit and enjoy the afternoon with the birds taking their bath. Tall Rose of Sharon in white, rose, and blue fill in the corner, and potted citrus trees take up residence on the steps. Down those steps to the pool area, where the Szokes were aiming for a peaceful look, we find red leaf plum, Japanese holly, astilbe, and Japanese painted ferns. The above ground pool is surrounded by a built-in deck with seating and a beautiful rock wall to show off the plantings. Then, the edible garden takes form with yummy “woodchuck-proof” veggies. In addition, there are many herbs and berry bushes, along with hazelnut, crabapple, pear and pluot trees.
Speaking of digging, the couple has been working on the final frontier by putting in a pond and woodland garden. “We dug the pond to solve a water problem, and we have been working on in for two years,” John explained. Around the pond are planted soft perennials, such as iris, boxwood, mallow, and rhododendrons. Daffodils bloom there in the spring. Beyond the pond, we finish out the walk with a natural setting of woodlands. All of this is on one acre of their property with the remainder left to the wildlife. There are countless other plants too numerous to name. They need to be seen to be appreciated.
Joan is a founding member of the Windham Garden Club, having answered an advertisement in the local paper placed by Claire Todisco, back in 1990. She jumped in with both feet! John found himself too busy with work for the group, he was always there to help out though. Joan stuck to the group, becoming president from 1995-1997 and holding pretty much all the jobs throughout the years. “We love this group. Gardeners tend to be active people, and we’ve had so many programs. We did lots of planting around town. It’s a great group of people. If you want to meet people and get involved, this is the group for you! We have made so many good friends over the years.” Joan remarked. For 32 years the Windham Garden Club has been meeting and growing friendships along with flowers all over town.
With so many plants to choose from, Joan refused to choose a favorite. “I can’t choose, I wouldn’t want to offend any of them,” she said with a smile. John, on the other hand was quick to share his favorite. “I like the Missouri Sun Drops. They are such a happy little plant! When the lavender blooms next to it, I just love the contrast of yellow and purple!” explained John. This pair of gardeners do most everything together, including enjoying a drive around town “to see people involved in things and what the volunteers are doing. It’s nice to know we are a part of that.”
It all started with a tiny cactus and a girl who loves to shop! Allison Sjolund has always loved and cared for indoor plants, beginning with cacti at a young age and continuing on from there. Her home is filled with trees and plants all thriving in their surroundings and nestled in just the right places. “I love to shop,” said Allison. “We went to Lake Street Gardens for a couple of things and stumbled onto their outside plants!” A perennial gardener was born! “I have always been a house plant person until we moved here. I was amazed at the variety of outside plants available!”
Allison and her husband John moved to a new development in Windham 7 years ago. After their experience at Lake Street, all the contractor shrubs came out, and Allison designed her own landscape for their new home. She joined the Windham Garden Club just before Covid hit and met a few members. When she was able to return to the group, she was overwhelmed by the greeting she got, thinking that she would have been forgotten. Robin Heider, long time member, welcomed her with a smile and a hardy hello. She continues to attend meetings and helps out with the Plant Sale. Allison also writes press releases for the Club and keeps the community informed of the Garden Club happenings.
The Windham Garden Club offers a variety of education through monthly meetings with timely topics, member mentoring, and various “digs” that give members hands on learning. Allison has been able to expand her perennial knowledge and her garden by joining this club. “I love the plant sale for inexpensive plants. It’s so fun and you learn stuff!” said Allison.
Allison leans towards trees and shrubs outside as she does inside. One of her favorites is Rose Mallow Hibiscus, which comes up late. It always worries her and everyone else! Clematis is on her list of fav’s and so is Spiderwort. A word to the wise had her corralling that super spreader in! Touring the garden found many special treasures, – a sunken firepit surrounded with flowering shrubs, a built-in herb shelf right off the deck, and wide open space with soft color sculpting the lawn. Truly a perennial landscape to behold.
At the seven-year mark, some of her bushes are getting to the overgrown stage. Ever the hands-on learner, Allison has hired an arborist to come teach her how to properly prune them. Her “Magic Wand” wish would be for “Good Soil.” Allison shared that her soil is a little rocky and sandy. Every gardener has been there at some point, and she will overcome this problem along with the next.
About how many different Hosta do you have in your yard – 2, 3, maybe 6? Cheryl Cravino can’t say that. Her secret love affair with Hosta has turned into HostaAmour with 1,108 different varieties of the leafy beauties in her yard! The Pelham resident has been a Windham Garden Club member since 2006. The Windham Garden Club is a powerful, positive force in Windham. The Club is 50+ members of strong women and men who share their passion of gardening with the community in many ways. Cheryl is currently the only non-Windham member, and she’s a keeper! She has consistently donated to the Annual Plant Sale and has allowed overflow plant storage for the Club at her home.
Cheryl’s commitment to the Windham Garden Club and horticulture stems from a long line of gardeners in her family. Her grandmother Myrtle Flynn was the first person known to hybridize water lilies. To hybridize a plant is to cross two different plants to create a third. Her mother had beautiful gardens, and all her sisters have green thumbs too!
After moving into her husband Rick’s childhood home 21 years ago with the challenge of making a garden from scratch in the woodland 1¾ acre property, they set out for what seemed like the impossible. All these years later the gorgeous property has manicured gardens, complete with creative structures and stone walls, designed and built by Cheryl on 1½ acres of their property.
Cheryl’s favorite perennial, of course, is a Hosta, but which one!? She also has the knack for hybridzing plants, creating “H. Matilda Jeanne,” her favorite plant, named after her beloved bulldogs. Mira is her Garden Greeter these days. The friendly bulldog is very polite and welcoming, starting visitors on their search for their “favorite” Hosta!
Cheryl started her elicit love affair with Hosta as a weekend hobby with about 100 varieties of Hosta that she liked to grow and share with family and friends. That has turned into a side business that she does on the weekends after working a 50-hour week as a Marketing and Creative Service Director.
Aside from being a successful entrepreneur, Cheryl is also a Master Gardener. In 2009 she attended a 30+ week program at the UNH Extension, a program that covers everything there is to know about gardening from invasive species to bird movement. The class finished with Cheryl was more than capable to answer the questions on the UNH garden Hot Line. “They would call about literally everything from bugs to zucchini bread recipes!” laughed Cheryl. Part of the program also calls for the student to design, supervise, and execute a major gardening project in the community. Cheryl worked with a Hudson Junior Women’s Group and installed a Butterfly Garden at Benson’s Park. The Butterfly Garden is now well established and has been designated as a Monarch Waystation. By creating and maintaining this garden, she has contributed to the conservation of monarch butterflies and helped with their preservation and the continued spectacular monarch migration.
HostaAmour, a shabby chic garden experience, is now available for you to explore. Cheryl shares her gardens and her “Chic Shed” with the public throughout the summer months on weekends beginning Mother’s Day. Cheryl proves that there is magic in nature and that gardening does make a difference in the world. “My wish is that people would look at the beauty that surrounds them and not take it for granted,” said Cheryl.
“Mom, When am I going to be a gardener?,” asked Robin Heider of her mother when she was quite young, wanting to follow in her mom’s footsteps. This question seems unbelievable coming from Robin, the “Chief” of the Windham Garden Club. Robin’s parents were both avid gardeners her whole life, but she just couldn’t seem to find the time for it. That’s all changed now and has been for a very long time. Robin and her husband Bruce have devoted their retirement to tending their garden, “The Yard”.
The high school sweethearts moved to Windham in 1976 and still live in the same beautiful home where the morning sun greets them hello and the sunset bids them goodnight each day. “When we first came here, Bruce grew vegetables, but as the trees grew in we switched to perennials,” said Robin.
Robin’s garden holds many favorites for her in the spring it’s all the bright colored bulbs and peonies, and of course day lilies that she loves. Her real favorites, though, are the Hosta, coral bells, and the plants that don’t “show off” with flowers. She much prefers their foliage and the textures of the less showy plants. “There is so much to enjoy about plants besides the flowers,” said Robin. Her gardens are mostly shady. Lately, she has been turning more toward shrubs and container gardens for their ease of care. Her most prized shrub is the Beauty Berry (callicarpa americana), a seemly insignificant 3-to-6-foot shrub that only shows its glory in late summer through fall in the manner of bright, plump purple berry clusters. Taking care of the “Yard” is a full-time job for the pair and a great retirement activity. They work from March through November, starting with pruning and ending with mulch. When she’s not in her garden, she volunteers at many places, including one of her favorites, Bedrock Gardens in Lee NH in the “Hands in Dirt” program. Robin was a Founding Member of the Windham Garden Club in 1990.
The Windham Garden Club has volunteers that take special care of many spots in the town. Robin is there for each work detail, from planning all the way through to watering the masterpieces when they are finished. These places include the Butterfly Garden at the Nesmith Library, the Town Hall, Bartley House, Veterans Cemetery, and the Gazebo. Aside from that she has been a Co-Chair of the Annual Plant Sale for many years. The Plant Sale is the biggest undertaking for the club. The money raised by the sale goes back into the community through scholarships and grants. The Arthur Baker Community Investment Grant has been given out for projects like conservation mapping, High School Greenhouse Project, flagpole beautification, and trail markers to name a few, along with scholarships to graduation seniors.
The Club also gives out member recognition awards. Receiving most of them over the years, including the Mighty Oak, where she was dubbed “Chief” and given the Golden Trowel for outstanding achievements in service, Robin also WOW’ed two Presidents. Officially that is, I’m sure they were all “wow’ed” by Robin and her amazing dedication to the Club and her never-ending strive to make the earth a better place. “I promote people to join the garden club. There is so much to learn. I’ve been around a long time and I’m still learning!” encouraged Robin.
On Thursday, November 17th, the Windham Garden Club (the “WGC”) met at the Town Hall for two and a half hours to learn about herb gardening in New Hampshire.
The presentation covered various herbs – both common and uncommon – that can grow in New Hampshire, along with detailed:
Growing tips for the herb;
Culinary uses for the herb;
Claimed medical uses for the herb;
Historical facts about the herb, including traditions and superstitions;
Garden organization; and
My favorite fact shared during the event is that: according to legend, if there is a thriving rosemary plant in front of the house, a strong woman runs the household. I know the first thing I will be planting in the spring! We also learned that the hollow petioles from the lovage plant make good straws for a Bloody Mary.
Some of the herbs we discussed in particular were: parsley, basil, sweet woodruff, borage, calendula, chamomile, chives, coriander, comfrey, anise hyssop, basil, bay, bee balm, dill, fennel rue, lavender, lemon verbena, lovage, mint, rosemary, sage, stinging nettle, thyme, and yarrow.
The WGC organized the program through the University of New Hampshire Extension Speaker’s Bureau. Our lecturer, Sarah Marcoux:
Has delivered presentations as part of the University of New Hampshire Extension Speaker’s Bureau since 2017, lecturing around the state at garden clubs, libraries, and other venues;
Has been a master gardener since 2016;
Is the mother of the youngest master gardener in New Hampshire; and
Volunteers for the UNH Extension Free Seeds for Education program, which donates seeds to educational groups to teach the science and importance of plants.
The Windham Garden Club’s mission is bringing together people who are interested in all aspects of gardening, horticulture, and conservation. Membership meetings run September through June on the third Thursday of the month in the evening and are open to the public. The WGC also decorated a holiday tree, which you can see on display in the Town Commons.
Be sure to join the WGC at one of its upcoming meetings:
January 20 – “The Heirloom Gardener” by author and garden historian John Forti. Zoom
February 17 – “State of the Loon – The Natural History, Challenges, and Successes of Loons in New Hampshire” by biologist Harry Vogel. Windham Town Hall
March 17 – “Exploring Nature’s Ability to Teach and Heal!” by Lisa Burris, Executive Director of Turn Back Time, a nature education program.
April 21 – “Attracting Birds, Bees and Butterflies to Your Yard” by Betty Sanders, a lifetime Master Gardener.
Membership in the Windham Garden Club is open to gardeners of all levels and is only $20. If you are interested in joining, visit www.windhamgardenclub.org/membership/ or email email@example.com.