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Cheryl Cravino – Master Gardener Windham Garden Club

by R. Rodgers

Cheryl Cravino

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.

Mira tucked in Hosta

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.

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Windham Garden Club Robin Heider

By R. Rodgers

“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.

Beauty Berry bush in full bloom.

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.

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Gardening in Windham

Meet Margaret Crisler

Margaret Crisler

by R. Rodgers

Iris – Dream On

“I am most passionate about iris – both German and Siberians, and I have a Lot of them!”, remarks Margaret Crisler one of Windham Garden Club’s Master Gardeners.  Margaret, I found is passionate about many things, gardening being very high on the list, along with her constant companion Max, her 13-year-old golden retriever.  To become a Master Gardener, it takes hours of volunteer time and continued commitment to the community.  As a Master Gardener she shares her knowledge freely.  Margaret’s initial Master Gardener project was the beautiful stone wall and garden in front of Nesmith Library, she organized volunteers, acquired plants and made it happen.  Making things happen is one of Margaret’s super powers.  Currently, she is working with the Windham Endowment on the Wildflower Garden at the new Moeckel dam site. 

Margaret has been a garden club member since 1995, she has worked consistently on many projects over the years, but her most demanding – and enjoyable has been the plant sale.  For more than 25 years, she has donated hundreds of plants from her garden, all except the blood root.  Her blood root is very special and she keeps it close.  “Planting blood root is easy but you need to know how. First you dig a big hole, place a piece of firewood, like oak or maple in the bottom, backfill with good soil and plant your start on top,” Margaret explained.  Blood Root (sanguinaria canadensis) bloom white daisy like flowers in the early spring and is a native of North America. It’s a good idea to overplant with ginger to fill in after the foliage dies back.  Also, when planting lilies, you should include some fritillaria, to deter voles.

Bobo hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculate ‘Ilvobo’)

Bobo hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculate ‘Ilvobo’) is another of her most treasured, the one she likes to gift.  “They are small and so free blooming.  Actually, all hydrangeas are beautiful and work well in the perennial garden,” said Margaret.  “The soil here is acidic so they like a little lime,” she said.  Margaret learned her love of the garden from her great-grandmother in the south where she grew up.  “She would use me as ‘free labor’ pulling weeds, she would point and say pull, or she would say dig here, no deeper!”  Now I hire teenagers and I do the pointing,” laughs Margaret. 

She has three children. Only one of which is a passionate gardener.  Her grandmother was a real gardener, “she grew vegetables so her family eat during the depression.”  Margaret’s mother was not a gardener she was a golfer. 

Max is moving a little slow but was still ready to make friends and “hang out” throughout my visit. He is a beautiful, loving dog.

Of all the secrets she shared her most important advice was to dig big holes, test your soil, add lime and nutrients as needed, and read the tags carefully.  One of the hardest tasks to do here in Windham is keep everything watered!  If Margaret had a magic wand her wish would be that she was younger so she could garden more, “getting old is no fun.”  “The Garden Club is doing so well, we have great leadership and we are doing all the right stuff, my favorite part is we don’t have to dress up to go to meetings!”  “Hang in there and keep digging!” was Margaret’s closing wish.