January 24, 2015

Primary School seeks volunteers to tend flower gardens - By Elizabeth Richards

Since her retirement from Windham Primary School fourteen years ago, Shelby Driscoll has continued to volunteer large amounts of her time each year to keeping the flower gardens at the school looking good. The time has come for her to pull back, and both she and the school administration hope that community volunteers will come forward to maintain the flower gardens when she goes.
Driscoll said that when the building was built in 1991, it was the most beautiful building in town. The landscaping, however, left something to be desired. Originally, Junipers were planted all around the building. With no one assigned to tend them, these Junipers were broken by snow in the winter, became overgrown and extended into walkways, turned brown, and just didn’t look good, said Driscoll.

Driscoll, who taught at the school, remembers going in to work in her classroom in the summer, and feeling tense. When she realized that it was the sight of the weeds and poorly tended Junipers, she decided to dig out the weeds and put some spring bulbs into the bed her classroom looked out on. “The next year, I pulled out a couple of Junipers and nobody noticed because I put flowers in,” she said. Using her home gardens as a nursery, she continued pulling them until all the Junipers were gone from that flower bed. Still, nobody noticed, she said. 

Then, her classroom was moved. So, she began again, pulling out Junipers and putting flowers in their place. Thus the flower gardens evolved, primarily due to Driscoll’s labor and determination. Knowing there were always budgetary concerns, she didn’t ask for money to maintain the gardens, though one year she did receive about $300 from the maintenance fund for more bulbs. The school has always mulched the gardens, she added. A custodian made some signs for the gardens, on which Driscoll put gardening proverbs. Driscoll also received donations frequently from Cooper’s Greenhouse at the end of their season. In recent years, she said, she has grown a lot from her own seeds.

Over the years, Driscoll has had bits of help on occasion, but has always been the force behind the gardens, even after her retirement in 2000. “Every once in a while someone would come by and help out, but people’s lives are busy,” she said. “The majority of the labor has been done by me.” 

After her retirement, Driscoll kept working on the gardens as a labor of love. “I started them. I am of that generation that if you start something, you finish it,” she said. This is one task that has no end, however, and it’s time to pass it on. Ultimately, she said, there should be more than one person working to maintain these flower beds. She’s still willing to be involved, letting people know what is there, giving hints on what needs to be done and when, but she can no longer take on the labor. “It doesn’t have to be one person, many people can do varying things,” she added. 

Driscoll always began working on the gardens during April vacation, beginning with splitting the Hostas. Mulch is typically done the first week in May, and someone will need to be ready to go in mid to late May when the bulbs come through she said. 

Dr. Kyle Rhoads, principal at Windham Primary School, said the gardens are a unique representation of the school. “It’s a good reflection before you even walk in on what we’re all about.” He is hopeful that some volunteers will come forward to maintain the gardens.

The gardens are energizing, he said, for staff and for children and families to see when they enter the school. But the work is extensive, he acknowledged. There were times, he said, that he saw Driscoll working in the morning when he arrived, and she was out there when he left in the afternoon as well. They are looking for more than one volunteer to take up the task, he said. 

The gardens offer a common bond for students and staff, both former and current, he said. “The beauty of the gardens reflects the beauty of kids,” he added. Dr. Rhoads said that the community is very supportive of the school in general. “This is another opportunity for community support.”

Anyone interested in volunteering to work on the Windham Primary School gardens should contact the school at 892-1840.

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