Garden Club Has Big Plans For Brooks Academy

by William F. Galvin
Alice Marcus Krieg of the Garden Club of Harwich makes a presentation before the Brooks Academy Museum Commission  on a major landscaping plan proposed for the grounds around Brooks Academy. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO Alice Marcus Krieg of the Garden Club of Harwich makes a presentation before the Brooks Academy Museum Commission on a major landscaping plan proposed for the grounds around Brooks Academy. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – While the historic Brooks Academy restoration projects may be stalled, the Garden Club of Harwich is making a commitment to putting the finishing touches on landscaping on the grounds surrounding the building.

Club member Diane DiGennaro told the select board last week that the garden club has received a bequest that will allow the organization to conduct major landscaping operations on the Brooks Academy grounds. But that work will remain on hold while officials work out a plan to accommodate the work that needs to be done to complete the restoration project (see accompanying story.

For more than 90 years the garden club has been tending the landscape on the property, according to member Sally Smith. When the club was formed in 1932, a small group of women, concerned about the number of trees being removed in the village, began planting trees and shrubs around the grounds of Brooks Free Library, Brooks Academy and along Sisson Road, said Smith.

In 1971, the club requested an appropriation from the town of $1,500 for improvements to the grounds at Brooks Academy. The organization also raised $526 for plantings. The town’s funds were used to install a water system, the brick retaining wall, steps and holly trees. In 1991, the club conferred with Pine Tree Nursery on a plan to plant 1,500 daffodils and crocus bulbs there, and conduct pruning of shrubs.

“The beautification and maintenance of the Brooks Academy grounds has been an ongoing project for the garden club ever since,” said Smith. “Within the last three years, an irrigation system was donated for the Brooks Academy grounds so the garden club would have watering capacities to keep the gardens flourishing in this warming climate.”

Garden Club members made a presentation to the Brooks Academy Museum Commission proposal on April 24. Sidney Brooks, who built the structure originally called Pine Grove Seminary in 1844, was a passionate gardener, and the landscaping he created around the school followed popular trends of the day, favoring a natural style.

Garden club member Alice Marcus Krieg, who before moving to Harwich worked in landscape and architecture design for historic structures in New York, has been conducting research on local horticulture over the period from 1840 to 1910. She has been focusing on Greek Revival architecture and Gothic Revival landscape architecture.

Among the plants and trees being considered for the Brooks Academy grounds are Juniper Taylor, anemone, asters, astilbe, hosta, amelanchier, redbud, upright yew, cinnamon fern and bearberry. The irrigation system will have to be functioning before the work is done, said DiGennaro.

Just when this landscape project will get done is not clear.

“As of now everything is on hold,” said Brooks Academy Museum Commission Chair Lynne Zalesak.

Select Board member Jeffrey Handler, speaking at the commission’s meeting, said all the parties should get together as soon after town meeting as possible to work on a strategic plan.

Given that the landscape work would take place in the Harwich Center Historic District, the project would have to go before the Historic District and Historical Commission for approval, said Harwich Historical Society member Linda Cebula. Given plans to locate some evergreen trees in the area of a busy intersection, she recommended that the traffic safety committee should look at where the trees are to be located.

“We all have to work together to save this jewel,” Harwich Historical Society President Anita Doucette said of the Academy property.

Zalesak said it could be two to three years before the project can be implemented. The landscaping could not begin until construction work is concluded because of the heavy equipment that will be necessary to restore the building, she said. The commission tabled a vote on acceptance of the plan.

“The garden club looks forward to continuing our work at Brooks Academy,” Smith said, “and hopes for the completion of the renovations and painting, so we are able to landscape the foundation and celebrate another year of enhancing the gardens surrounding Harwich’s historic landmark.”