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Museum looking for gardeners

By Lori O'Brien


HOLYOKE Garden work parties will soon be knee deep in mulch, perennials and annuals as the Holyoke Wistariahurst Gardeners set out to tackle the first phase of a seven-year restoration plan at the Wistariahurst Museum.

John Hurley, head gardener at the Wistariahurst Museum, is the coordinator of the 1-year-old gardeners group that consists of approximately 30 volunteers dedicated to enhancing the museum grounds.

"These gardeners value the potential the site has to offer to the community in terms of its gardens and grounds," said Kate Navarra Thibodeau, museum curator, Wistariahurst Museum, during an interview with Reminder Publications. "The garden volunteers share their time and enjoyment of gardening to participate in the restoration project."

The seven-year plan to restore the Wistariahurst gardens and grounds started in earnest in 2005, according to Navarra Thibodeau, adding "Because our gardeners are volunteers and we receive our plants through donation, sometimes it takes longer to finish projects."

Restoration plans include restoring the rose garden, faux wall between the formal house and the service entry, the gardens surrounding the Japanese Tea Gardens and preserving the Japanese Tea House. The seven-year plan also calls for installing a sprinkler system and rehabilitating the perimeter wall.

Hurley conducts informal meetings on the second Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. for area residents interested in volunteering their time at the museum.

"The garden work parties will mulch, plant perennials and annuals, water, trim and cut grass," said Navarra Thibodeau.

Navarra Thibodeau added that gardeners will also be working to find donations of perennials, annuals and rose bushes. One of the activities planned this spring is a garden sale/swap where the public will be able to purchase or swap for plants.

The garden restoration project is unique because according to Navarra Thibodeau, "in a very urban city like Holyoke, there is this beautiful garden which is being restored to its height in the 1920s. We hope it will someday be a destination for people who are in the city as well as visitors to the city."

Volunteers are always needed for various garden projects. No experience is necessary and tools and gloves are provided. Area residents interested in more information are invited to attend garden parties on Tuesdays or Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon starting April 4.

The Wistariahurst will also host its second annual spring gala on May 12 to benefit its garden project as well as restoration projects and programs. This spring's theme is the "Swingin' 1940's," and will feature live Big Band and Swing music by Interplay Jazz and Ted Wirt's New England Jazz Quintet. In addition, the swinging moves of the dance troupe Terpischore is planned. Highlights of the 6 to 9 p.m. fundraiser will include light fare, antique autos and an exhibit of the 1940's. Period costume is optional.

For more information on the garden work parties or tickets to the gala, call (413) 322-5660.

The Wistariahurst is a National Historic Landmark owned and operated by the City of Holyoke with support from the Wistariahurst Museum Association. The 26-room mansion, the former home of two generations of the Skinner family (1874-1959), features parquet floors, vaulted ceilings, elaborate woodwork and two marble lions that guard the entrance. Throughout the year, the museum offers exhibits, house tours, concerts and workshops.