Raymond gardens’ success relies on handful

A BEAUTIFUL MEMORIAL — The Raymond-based volunteer group that participates in the weekly ‘Walk and Weed’ work installed the bricks along with planting flowers at the Raymond Veterans’ Memorial Park in 2013. This Friday, the group plans to spruce up the park, pulling out tulips and planting red, white and blue flowers. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Beautification Committee)

A BEAUTIFUL MEMORIAL — The Raymond-based volunteer group that participates in the weekly ‘Walk and Weed’ work installed the bricks along with planting flowers at the Raymond Veterans’ Memorial Park in 2013. This Friday, the group plans to spruce up the park, pulling out tulips and planting red, white and blue flowers. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Beautification Committee)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

RAYMOND — Half a dozen women have been weeding the community gardens in the Raymond Business District for more than ten years.

These women could be the categorized as the silent heroes of town aesthetics and community pride.

But, in reality, talking goes hand-in-hand with weeding and walking. So perhaps, silent isn’t the right word.

“Some of the benefits of walking and weeding: it is very rewarding because you get to see the project done quickly, you get exercise, you get out in the fresh air, and you get to socialize,” Sharon Dobson said.

Dobson volunteers in the gardens, has adopted a garden on the business property she and her husband own, and also serves as chairman of the Raymond Beautification Committee.

The walk and weed group, which is seven members strong, has taken on the task of maintaining the gardens along the Route 302 corridor in Raymond. Maintenance extends to the planters at the base of the Raymond Public Safety sign and the Welcome to Raymond sign as well as the garden beds at the Raymond Boat Launch and the Raymond Veterans’ Memorial.

The Raymond Beautification Committee oversees the community garden project, which is part of its vision “to maintain and enhance the sense of community pride and visual appearance of the Town of Raymond through the use of gardens, landscaping and seasonal decorations,” according to the town’s website.

Coincidently, many of the women who do the weekly walk and weed are also members of the Hawthorne Garden Club.

“The walk and weeders are volunteers who don’t have a formal committee. We just go out there and weed,” Dodson said. Some of the regulars include Shirley Bloom, Fran Gagne and Elisa Gifford, she said. A few years ago, Raymond Town Manager Don Willard decided the group of die-hards needed some extra help when it came to heavy lifting and mass watering.

Since then, two town employees assist with the walk and weed tasks on Fridays.

“That is really working out well. We did it on our own for the first 10 years,” Dodson said.

By mid-April 2016, the majority of the tulips and other spring varieties were blooming in Raymond’s community gardens. The snowstorm on April 26 only made the bright colors stand out more vividly.

NOT-SO-STRANGE BEDFELLOWS — As they have done every gardening season for the past decade, a small group of volunteers takes care of the garden bed in front of The Salvation Army Family Store in Raymond.    (Photo courtesy of Raymond Beautification Committee)

NOT-SO-STRANGE BEDFELLOWS — As they have done every gardening season for the past decade, a small group of volunteers takes care of the garden bed in front of The Salvation Army Family Store in Raymond.
(Photo courtesy of Raymond Beautification Committee)

By mid-May, it was back to watering the garden beds since the rain has been doing spotty work this month.

Unlike the rain, what has been steady are the positive comments about the gardens in the business district.

“Yes, definitely, we have people walk up to us when they’re walking on sidewalk, and compliment the gardens,” Dobson said.

Town Manager Willard agreed.

“We do get positive commentary from neighboring communities,” he said.

“I hope it inspires other towns,” Willard said. “People from other towns say it would be something they’d like to do. The question is: How do you have something like that and keep the cost down? And also, how do you have the people who will continue it from year to year?”

It is a relatively new arrangement for the Town of Raymond to supply part-time assistance for the community gardens, he said. In past years, the town has provided materials like mulch and other supplies, he said.

The volunteers are solid as an oak tree when it comes to keeping up the appearance of the gardens.

The walk and weed volunteer group works for a few hours on Friday mornings. They start at the Raymond Veterans’ Memorial, which is located at the intersection of Route 302 and Route 85. People who do the walk and weed show up at 8 a.m. Often, the people who show up break into groups of two or three to accomplish work for the day.

Volunteers do not have to belong to a garden club or sit on the Raymond Beautification Committee, Dobson said.

“Yes, it is open to the public. We just cannot have children under 18 because we work along the side of Route 302,” she said.

“We can always use more volunteers. You don’t have to come every week. You can come a few times during the summer or whatever is convenient for you. You can pick and choose your jobs. Once you are on the e-mail list, I will give a summary of the work for the upcoming week,” she said.

The community gardens are a collaborative effort between the town, the volunteers and the local business owners, many of whom have adopted the garden in front of their business.

“The individual adopters pay for additional plants like annuals and bulbs. There are already a lot of perennials and trees” from the initial landscaping done 13 years ago, Dobson said.

“If you adopt a garden, it’s up to you to add additional color,” she said.

Her adopted gardens are the ones in front of the building that once housed the Aubuchon Hardware Store. She owns that property with her husband.

In 2003, when the sidewalks and streetlights were installed in the Raymond business district, 70-plus gardens were planted, too.

“A summer went by and no one took care of” the garden beds, she said.

It was tending those gardens in 2004 that drew attention to the need to maintain that part of town.

“I had the hardware store at the time. I started working in the garden. Then, we started weeding over by the shopping center,” she said, adding that people took notice of the work going on.

Mike McCullen, the executive director of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, and Willard “asked what they could do for us. Don saw a need for the maintenance of the gardens. Mike ran into my husband, and asked if there was a way to do that,” she said. “I had several gardening friends. We went from there.”

“It would have happened anyway. I had gardens in front of the hardware store before they came in and put in bigger gardens,” she said.

Currently, many of the women who participate in the weekly walk and weed belong to the Hawthorne Garden Club.

The club “is not formally registered. We have meetings once a month during the gardening season. And we do activities once a month. We maintain the garden at the Hawthorne House,” Dobson said.

The garden club also adopted the gardens at the Veterans’ Memorial. This Friday, the walk and weed will be dedicated to pulling up the dead tulips and planting red, white and blue flowers at the memorial.

Dobson did not recall childhood memories in the garden. Instead, she found freedom and satisfaction through gardening as an adult.

“I think I really got into gardening more as an adult. When I had my first apartment, I had a garden there. And, I’ve had gardens ever since,” she said.

In addition to gardening outdoors, Dobson spends some time indoors — maintaining the Raymond Beautification Committee’s Facebook page.

She declined to select a community garden that is nearest and dearest to her heart, saying, “They all have their own attributes.”

“We like the gardens that don’t have weeds in them,” she quipped.

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