Gardening Green with Doug - Family by Flowers
By Doug Oster
July 1, 2020
Like the fragrance of lilies in summer, garden stories seem to be everywhere. I was in the office at Hahn Nursery talking with Manager Laurie Curl when two women pushing a cart filled with huge hydrangeas asked if there were any asters available. They were in luck as Curl said they had just came in on a truck.
As I left the nursery, I stopped at the register to see the women, explaining I didn’t work there and wondered if they found what they needed. Surprisingly, Barbara Martin knew right away it was me, even behind sunglasses and a protective mask. As we walked out together, they told me the plants were going to a very special garden.
Martin along with Linda Hyde were creating a perennial garden for the School Sisters of St. Francis with the help of the Late Bloomers Garden Club of Forest Hills. The pair are members of the club. The main convent and personal care home had been sold; a house adjacent to the property was now a convent for five of the nuns. Hyde has spent the last 25 years working as finance manager for the sisters and knew there was a need to revamp the landscape.
“The sisters were saying to me, ‘our place is a mess, there are so many weeds, we don’t have anyone to take care of it,’” in the parking lot of Hahn’s.
Although both know their way around a trowel, Martin is a Penn State Master Gardener, who was one of the forces behind the design. The two thought perennials would be the best choice for the project and Sister Frances Marie Duncan agreed. She’s the provincial minister for the order, which she explained is kind of like the president of the corporation. “We used to have all annuals,” she says of the landscape, “every single year it was the expense of all the flowers.” The shrubs and perennials will return yearly, spreading with each season of new growth.
Days after our meeting at the nursery a group of volunteers from the club, and Sister Gracie, are working hard planting the garden. The hydrangeas are a variety named ‘Pinkie Winkie,’ they make up the bones of the bed, supplemented by coneflowers, bleeding heart, spirea, lavender, asters, coreopsis, phlox, and more. “Three seasons of blooms is what we’ve planned,” said Martin proudly.
When asked why the garden club would spend their time planting at the convent, Martin doesn’t miss a beat. “We just said, look Linda needs some help. We’re in the same neighborhood, we’re all like sisters and hang out together,” she added.
There’s a deep connection between Hyde and the sisters that transcends the boundaries of simply being an employee. Her own mother was cared for by the sisters in the personal care home. “They were like angels to her,” Hyde said softly.
Sister Marian Sgriccia sits on the porch of the home as the garden is being planted. She explains there always seems to be a close relationship between the nuns and those they encounter. “The people that are associated with the sisters feel like they are part of us,” she says with a smile, “it’s very good to see.”
The planting continues, as Sister Frances Marie reflects on what’s going on in front of the property. “We’re astounded that they were willing to come and do it,” she says of the club installing the garden. “That’s really wonderful for them to give up their time to make it look beautiful.”
As the workers wait for a delivery truck from Chapon’s Greenhouse, filled with more plants, Sister Frances Marie explains what she gets out of time in the garden. “It just brings me closer to God, whenever I’m in nature I always think of the spiritual aspect of it,” she says. “The greening of the world is so necessary. I’m hoping when people see it, they will also be in awe and think ‘wow.’”
Martin finishes digging a planting hole as the garden plan starts to come together. “It will just make it look beautiful,” she says of the new landscape, “they won’t have a lot of maintenance.”
“It’s nice to do work for other people when they need it,” she adds with a smile, “and blessings come to us for doing this.”