By Barbara Allen, Contributing Writer
Northborough – It was a big, two-day project, with sweaty, dirt-covered men and women tramping through her yard and home, but Northborough resident and Hope in Bloom Garden recipient, Kathleen Howland, couldn’t have been happier.
Howland, who has been in treatment for breast cancer, had been on the waiting list at Hope in Bloom for about a year. The nonprofit organization plants indoor and outdoor gardens free of charge at the homes of breast cancer patients living in Massachusetts.
Founded by Roberta Hershon, Hope in Bloom is a living legacy of love and remembrance for her friend and fellow gardener, Beverly Eisenberg, who died of the disease in 2005. The organization has planted 123 gardens since its inception, and has helped to raise awareness about the beneficial effects of gardens and their link to health. Plants and materials for the gardens are either purchased directly by Hope in Bloom with tax-deductible contributions or donated by a nursery or garden center. The actual installation of the garden is done by volunteers.
Before any garden can be put in place, there needs to be a design plan. Hershon relies upon the generosity of landscape architects and designers who donate their time and skill to the projects.
Tim Dolan, director of horticulture at Chestnut Hill Realty, was the man behind the design for Howland's garden. When he met with her to discuss the plan, several months before the project took place, he was smitten by her vintage home with its wide front porch and the palette for creativity offered by her spacious yard.
Howland wanted a vegetable and herb garden, in addition to the flowers Dolan had in mind for the space.
“I love the opportunity to grow things organically and “put them up,”” she explained, with a smile. “I think I’m truly from another era in time.”
Dolan designed an intimate spot, with raised beds for vegetables, bluestone steppers and a bistro table nestled beneath a trellis. Lead had been found in the original soil where the garden was to be placed; the raised beds have a layer of protective landscape cloth between the new soil and the old. At the front of the house, bygone bushes and scraggly shrubs have been replaced by plantings that would enhance the hospitality of the sprawling porch.
In early June, what had once been a blueprint of garden sketches became an actual garden. Local businesses came through with contributions of plants, materials and labor: bluestone and cobblestone from Cavicchio Greenhouses in Sudbury; stone dust from Kimball Sand Company in Northborough; plants from Bigelow Nurseries in Northborough; three trellises from Lowes in Milford; compost and mulch from Howard's in Framingham and design, labor and additional materials provided by Chestnut Hill Realty. The First Parish Church in Northborough contributed money which paid for the bistro table and chairs.
Hershon greeted her volunteer laborers each day with homemade cookies, snapped photographs, and was always ready with her shovel or clippers. The Chestnut Hill Realty landscaping crew, their absence from their day jobs sanctioned by owner Ed Zuker, were on hand in hearty numbers to clear the yard, prepare the soil, build the boxes for the raised beds, plant, and spread mulch.
Zuker, who lost a brother to lung cancer and founded The Conquer Cancer Coalition in his brother's memory, stated that he “likes being supportive of people who need help.”
“If a group is volunteering and doing the work, we like to help out when we can,” he added.
The installation of the garden was supervised by Dolan, who revealed that he had selected plantings that would specially personalize the garden for Howland. In honor of her passion for music and her career as a professor of music therapy at Berklee College of Music, he had chosen a clematis called “Bell's Jubilee,” an ornamental grass known as “Adagio,” and an herb called “Bugelwood.”
“I can’t believe that people who don’t even know me would spend two days to do this,” said an emotional Howland. “It's such a gift.”
For more information about Hope in Bloom and to read stories about other gardens planted by the organization, visit hopeinbloom.org.