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Grenell: The Garden Isle

My mother-in-law said when she was growing up, her relatives, the Pratts didn’t allow any weeding, raking or lawn mowing. Actually, there was no lawn to mow. From what I’ve been told, sixty years ago, if were sitting on the porch of one cottage, I wouldn’t have been able to see the other cottage, even though it was only 30 feet away, because of all the underbrush. My father-in-law labeled the non-landscaping practices of the Pratts as lazy.

I see Alice, Olivia and Edith’s behavior from another perspective. They were at “camp.” Their place here on Grenell had started out as a camp—with tents. As they saw it, they were living in the woods, not a neighborhood in a town. Think Thoreau on Walden Pond. It was supposed to be wild and woolly. Besides, between 1880 and 1940, lawn care implements weren’t powered by anything but sweat. No weed whackers, no power mowers and no electric hedge trimmers.

Things changed after Olivia died. The next generation, trimmed back the underbrush and planted grass. For the first time, Gary’s mother planted shrubs and cleared space for gardens.

Now as we arrive on Grenell after a long winter away, there is a lawn to mow, shrubs to trim, annuals to plant and perennial gardens to rake, weed and mulch.

There are days I think rolling back the clock, to a whole living-in-the-woods mindset, wouldn’t be a bad idea. But then all I’d have to do is take a walk around the island and I’m inspired. What wonderful gardens we have on Grenell!

In the spring, everyone is outside planting and raking, mulching and weeding. Those that don’t have enough soil for a traditional garden, have containers overflowing with blossoms. There are all sorts of containers besides the traditional pot: old wash tubs, metal pitchers, even old shoes. We also have a garden with a waterfall on Grenell, right next to the path—flowers and the lovely sound of cascading water.

In 2005, the Grenell Island Improvement Association decided to landscape the front of the Community House. Then-president, Dusty Sauda, pointed out there were such wonderful gardens all around Grenell; why not in front of the Community House, too? Dedicated Grenellians turned out to help, enjoying each other’s company as we planted, weeded, mulched and pruned. The garden clean-up is an annual event in the Spring; as we work, it’s a time when we catch-up on what happened over the winter and swap gardening tips and ideas.

Many people turn out for the annual event. Most have a green thumb. Some have two. Others (like me) may not be so talented, but provide some help, enthusiasm and muscle to get the job done. The camaraderie is infectious; I marvel at the talent of many of my fellow Islanders.

I guess we have all moved-out of the camp-mode. There are still wild and woolly places on the island, but almost every cottage has its own personality and the gardens and flowers form a beautiful collage of color and creativity, as you walk around the island. We can all be proud of what each of us has done to form a collective cascade of beauty for Grenell: The Garden Isle!

By Lynn McElfresh, Grenell Island

What a wonderful winter of Lynn McElfresh stories! Lynn is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. Yes, she continues to give us a special look at Island life in the past and just yesterday. See all of Lynn’s 60+ articles here – as she helps us move pianos, fix the plumbing and even pay games like “Ship.” As Editor, I have the pleasure of seeing “what’s next first!”

  • The finished product

    The finished product

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Posted in: Places, Nature
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Diane Cordes
Comment by: Diane Cordes ( )
Left at: 2:06 PM Thursday, May 15, 2014
Enjoying the gardening skills of others on the island is something that has always been a pleasure. I look forward to the day when I can be there long enough to tend flowers all summer long!
Darlene Richardson
Comment by: Darlene Richardson ( )
Left at: 8:50 PM Thursday, May 15, 2014
Lynn , I love this story and the beautiful pictures at the River! I can't wait to be back there!
Lynn McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn McElfresh ( )
Left at: 11:11 PM Thursday, May 15, 2014
Can't wait to see both of you---Diane and Darlene---will be arriving next week. Lots of raking to do before I can start planting flowers.