by Lucinda Dunkin
The story begins nearly twenty years ago. A gift of $25,000 was given to the Town by auto dealer owner Bob Moran. He wanted to improve the look of West Concord Center and thought that planting sidewalk trees would improve the area’s attractiveness. The project proved difficult to launch and was delayed until several West Concord residents asked Town Manager Chris Whelan about its status. Whelan convened all appropriate CPW chairs and asked Dorrie Kehoe, a Main Street resident, to shepherd the project. She enlisted several West Concord neighbors and local business owners to take on the project.
They agreed and became the West Concord Beautification Committee. They hired a landscaping company but immediately encountered several issues. Underground wiring on the South side of Commonwealth Avenue made tree planting impossible there. Narrow sidewalks elsewhere meant healthy trees would have trouble flourishing. Many West Concord business owners didn’t want tree foliage obscuring their buildings, weeds at the base of trees, or autumn leaf cleanup. Nevertheless, the effort was made and in time about eight varieties of trees were planted around the Center.
In the late 1990’s, the Town of Concord announced it was going to use State funds to widen Main Street (Rte.62 West) from the Harvey Wheeler Center to Damondale Mill. The West Concord Beautification Committee strongly opposed such an effort, knowing that the removal of all the large shade trees along that stretch of road would strip the area of its “neighborhood feel.” Irritation on both sides of this issue was high. It was then that West Concord Main Street resident Carol Jamison called Kehoe and said, “Why don’t you see if we could plant small roadside gardens along that part of Main Street? When Kehoe brought the idea to the CPW, Peter Flynn, Superintendent of the CPW, soon showed up at Dorrie’s house in his large pickup truck and said: ”Hop in! The CPW liked this idea, so now we need to pick out hardy plants for the proposed gardens.” Their very practical choices, drought-and salt-resistant Stella D’Oro day lilies, catmint, and the bronze toned “Autumn Joy” sedum, would provide beautiful color from Spring to fall. The Town would buy the plants at discount prices, rototill and fertilize each new garden (for which residents agreed to pay $100), and home owners and the West Concord Beautification Committee got the plants into the ground. The result was a huge success.
The next public/private project given to the West Concord Beautification Committee came when Bill Edgerton, Director of the CPW, observed that the old “Cobra” street lights in West Concord Center were on their last legs. He suggested that the Beautification Committee speak to Dan Sack, at the Concord Light Plant, about the possibility of replacing the old street lights. When Sack agreed, Edgerton then suggested, “Let’s get those attractive new street lamps that also have the capacity to suspend large hanging baskets of flowers on either side of each pole.”
As soon as the new light poles were bought and installed, the West Concord Beautification Committee, led by Gary Clayton, Caroline McCloy and Dorrie Kehoe, flew into action. First they raised money to purchase and plant nearly 50 hanging baskets. Although the initial order was given to a nursery in Newburyport, the Committee’s desire to “buy local” led them to arrange with Heidi Porton, of Cucurbit Farm in Acton, to plant the baskets every year.
Now the hanging baskets are the visual “logo” for all of West Concord. So many residents and people passing through West Concord comment on the beauty of the blossoming hanging baskets. When WCVB’s “Chronicle’” did a recent story about West Concord Center, they made took special mention of the lovely flowering baskets. They captured the feeling that everyone seems proud and happy that West Concord Center is so beautifully welcoming all summer long.
Several years after the hanging baskets had been installed, West Concord residents, Helene Clayton, Caroline McCloy and Dorrie Kehoe met on a summer’s day for ice tea. They spoke of the need to build on the success of the West Concord hanging baskets and the Main Street roadside gardens. They agreed that West Concord could use a group of volunteers to work together to add more public flower beds in different parts of the Center. Everyone loved the flowers that had just been added. Why not look for ways to build in more public garden spaces and have a group to do it?
This was the impetus for the first meeting of the West Concord Green Thumbs in July, 2008.
In addition to the three founders, others who attended that first meeting included Judy Dennen, Marilyn Anderson, Meg Gaudet, Nancy Crowley, Carol Jamison, Binnie Smith, Joanne Loynd, Darlene Grove, Kathleen Larkin, Kathy Kobos and Gail Keane. Meg Gaudet suggested the name, the West Concord Green Thumbs, which the group enthusiastically adopted. At that meeting the group agreed first that their primary goal would be beautifying West Concord’s public garden spaces, and second, that all residents of the wider area – men and women – with an interest in this kind of endeavor, would be enthusiastically welcomed and, indeed, sure that they were needed!
The Founding ‘Mothers’ of the West Concord Green Thumbs public gardens group are, left to right, Dorrie Kehoe, Caroline McCloy, and Helene Clayton. The group began in July, 2008, and has worked every year since to beautify the public spaces of West Concord.
In the past nine years the group has grown to over forty members. Their projects have become well known and widely appreciated. Their first project in 2008 was the design and planting of the entrance garden to Fowler Library. Since then, annually, the West Concord Green Thumbs do a thorough gardens’ clean-up in Spring and Fall. Sometimes the clean-up preceded the creation of the garden! Caroline McCloy remembers how she and Katherine Larkin cleaned piles of trash out from the space behind the railroad tracks on Commonwealth Ave., making it possible, later, for the new “Mandrioli Mini Park to appear. But the group also took over the World War II “Kenny Dunn Memorial Garden ” at the intersection of Commonwealth and Lawsbrook and spends many hours maintaining the small triangular “Crest Street garden,” which has no water supply. And of course, the group has worked collaboratively for several years with CPW Director Rich Reine, Town Engineer Bill Renault, Dick Fowler, Superintendent of Highway and Grounds Division of the CPW, and CPW Supervisor Peter Flynn, to plan, plant, and maintain the lovely new “Junction Park,” between the West Concord shopping mall and the Depot.
West Concord’s beautiful public flower gardens come from a unique collaboration between the West Concord Green Thumbs and Concord Public Works Supervisor, Peter Flynn. Flynn, who retires from this position on January 31st, 2017, has worked closely with the West Concord Green Thumbs for more than fifteen years to insure that the town’s public gardens receive the care and attention they need from both the volunteers and the Town of Concord.
Flynn praises this particular partnership. He says, “Junction Park is a little jewel. The Green Thumbs worked so hard with us to get this park set up just right. I’ve never seen a public/private partnership effort that matches what they do. Without their faithful attention to detail and their good organizational energy, this park wouldn’t have half the beauty and peacefulness it now offers. Their volunteers even pick up (and count hundreds of) the commuters’ cigarette butts, which, quite honestly, makes a big difference in how the space looks.”
But the partnership extends to other areas as well. Take how the hanging baskets are watered, for instance. Twice a week residents of Minuteman Arc are paid to water the baskets using the Town’s special “Water Buffalo” wagon. This is housed at the West Concord Fire Station but as further proof of collaboration, it also draws water given by several West Concord businesses. Four additional days per week the CPW’s summer staff fertilize and water the hanging baskets, insuring their loveliness even during last summer’s drought.
Financially, the West Concord Green Thumbs has established a close annual relationship with all businesses in West Concord Center and with many neighborhoods and private residents. The Spring fundraising campaign asks every small business owner for donations. It gratefully receives additional donations of all amounts from whole neighborhoods as well as individual private residents who love how the baskets and public gardens make West Concord look. These donations, when not collected in person, are easily sent to The West Concord Green Thumbs, P.O. BOX 1374, Concord, MA 01742.
Donations to the group matter, of course, but perhaps equally important is the decision by residents of the area – men and women – to join the West Concord Green Thumbs. All kinds of help is needed. Membership outreach begins now, in early winter, for the Green Thumbs’ 2017 “growing season.” The group’s first meeting, open to all interested newcomers, will be held at 7 PM Wednesday, February 1st at The Wheel House. This lovely public meeting room is located in the second of the three Bradford Mills buildings on Bradford Street. Driving from Rte. 2, take the first left off Commonwealth Ave after crossing the railroad tracks. The space has ample free parking. Newcomers will be warmly welcomed at this and following meetings. More details are available at the group’s website, “westconcordhgreenthumbs.org.”
The West Concord Green Thumbs could not accomplish everything it does without the close collaborative support of the Town’s CPW, and most especially the oversight, encouragement and assistance of its Supervisor, Peter Flynn. When Flynn retires this January 31st, the West Concord Green Thumbs folks who have worked most closely with him will be sad to see him go. Their respect for Flynn is profoundly appreciative. Yet even as the group bids him ‘adieu,’ the West Concord Green Thumbs remain optimistic about the deep commitment of the town to continue this partnership. There is no question about the deep love that so many area residents have expressed for how beautiful the hanging baskets and five public gardens in West Concord make the Center look.
The West Concord Green Thumbs knows that the saying “Many hands make light work,” is not a casual truism. The group knows that many hands are needed to produce beauty throughout the four month growing season, but they also know from first hand experience that beyond flowers, their collaborative effort produces fun and new friendships. West Concord Green Thumbs members are heartened by the widespread pride in the beauty of West Concord Center, but - as always- they also look forward to welcoming, and helping, many new members to participate in the upcoming growing season!