WEST NEWBURY — For 85 years, the West Newbury Garden Club, founded in 1936 during the depths of the Great Depression, has been on a mission to promote civic beauty.
Club members are assigned to one of eight community garden teams. With an assist from the Public Works Department, each team is responsible for planting, weeding, watering and cleaning up gardens at the 1910 Town Office Building, Elwell Town Square, the Church Street island, Ferry Lane Park (home of the award-winning Thurlow peony garden), GAR Memorial Library; Old Town Hall, the Training Field and the Hills House herb garden.
With more than 50 varieties of herbs, the garden at Hills House, 407 Main St., is a fine example of the club’s devotion to the town land under its care.
The Morse-Hills House, built about 1780 by cooper William Hills, was transferred to the Historical Society in 1957 and became a town museum.
In the 1960s, during a surge of interest in herbal gardens, local garden club members began researching herbs, their habits and their uses, according to Hill House herb garden co-Chair Carrie Crowley.
Members reviewed chapters from a selected herb book to prepare for designing, planting and caring for a garden on the grounds of the town museum.
Some herbs were donated, some were purchased, and each plant had its own identifying marker. Throughout the summer of 1966, “members weeded and cared for the garden, transporting gallon after gallon of water in jugs for the thirsty plants since water has not yet been installed in the house,” Crowley said.
Club members created plant arrangements featuring the herbs and prepared an herb luncheon complete with hot casseroles, biscuits, bread, salads and desserts — all containing herbs from the garden. Recipes were swapped and tips on herb gardening were exchanged, Crowley said.
The fragrant goose-foot herb garden, in front of the tiny shoemaker’s shop on the Hills House property, was modeled after the Plymouth Pilgrim herb garden at Plimoth Patuxet Museums.
Among the more unusual plants in the garden are feverfew — an herb good for treating fevers and migraine; tansy, a member of the Aster family good for treating ulcers and poor appetite; and Angelica, whose root, seed and fruit are said to address a wide range of medical woes from heartburn and circulation problems to insomnia and anorexia.
Thanks to volunteers’ efforts, the herb garden has survived “disastrous drought” and townwide watering bans over the years.
The club decorates wreaths and swags for the holidays at the library, 1910 Town Office Building, Old Town Hall, Hills House, Ferry Lane Park, Training Field and the Public Safety complex; and is responsible for the installation of the permanent Christmas tree on the Training Field.
The club has received numerous recognitions and awards over the years, including the Bay State Award from the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts; Sears Citation for Beautification of the Training Field, for the foundation planting at Pentucket Regional Middle School, and for planting 100 tulips at Ferry Lane Park; and The Marie E. Lewis Conservation of Natural Resources Award for best work in acquiring, preserving and developing a natural resource; among other such acknowledgments of excellence.
The club focuses on providing speakers, workshops, exchanges with fellow gardeners, community activities, “and the promotion of all things horticultural,” its website states.
Meetings are the first Thursday of the month at 6:45 p.m. at the Town Annex at 379 Main St. For more information, visit wngc.org.