The Star-Herald

Gardeners show off colorful flowers and plants to help people in need

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Some of the Presque Isle area’s most avid flower gardeners welcomed the community to their homes on a sunny, warm Saturday for the third annual garden tour fundraiser to benefit Grace Interfaith Food Table.

Just a few years ago Charlene Buzza, director of volunteer services for GIFT and a gardener herself, came up with the idea to host a summer garden tour that would both help the 501C3 nonprofit raise funds for food purchases and provide a unique experience for community members. Since then she has gotten much help from friends and fellow gardeners Anne Hemphill, Suzanne Hews, Louis Griffeth and Donna Keegan, owner of Myrtle Tree Farm in Presque Isle.The first garden tour was such a success — raising $1,000 dollars for GIFT through ticket sales — that Buzza and her friends decided to come together for the fundraiser every year. While they raised around $800 each from the 2017 and 2018 garden tours, Buzza said that any amount is crucial to folks in Aroostook County who are in dire need of food services.

“We’re open every Wednesday and we stock up on any food that people might buy in a grocery store such as soups, corn, canned chicken and tuna fish and green beans, except everything is free,” Buzza said. “We try to supplement what people cannot buy with food stamps.”

GIFT was founded in 2003 by Sister Mary O’Donnell of St. Mary’s Catholic Church as a collaboration with the Presque Isle Congregational Church, Grant Memorial United Methodist Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church. It serves an average of 25 to 30 families each week from its location on 24 Industrial Street in Presque Isle.

Five gardens were featured in this year’s tour in both Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield. In the coming years Buzza plans to include no more than six gardens to allow more time for community members to chat with the gardeners and appreciate the unique features of each garden.

“People who have come to the garden tours love spending time with each other, as many are gardeners themselves,” Buzza said. “Everybody gardens a little differently and so people can get advice on different ways to grow their own garden.”

On Dumond Drive in Presque Isle, Cheryl Boulier showed guests around four gardens in both her front and back yards that feature petunias, hydrangeas, zinnias and sedums.

“The gardens are my happy place,” Boulier said. “I’ve lived here 48 years but it wasn’t until I retired that I really started to garden more.

Cindy Flanegan of Easton and Gayle James of Presque Isle were two early morning visitors to Boulier’s garden and admired the numerous annual and perennial flowers that bloomed throughout the large yard.

“It’s nice to see how everyone puts their spin on gardening,” said Flanegan, who participated in last year’s garden tour.

James also had her garden featured last year and planned to visit the other gardens, which included the MSAD 1 School Farm, Pat Grant on Hardy Street, Julie Freeman on Coburn Avenue in Presque Isle and Margery Hunter on Maple Grove Road in Fort Fairfield.

“It’s a nice way to give back to the community and to appreciate the beauty of all these gardens,” James said.

Not far from Boulier’s home, Grant showed visitors the small and large hostas and astilbes that lined the far end of her backyard. Grant participated in the garden tour for the first time this year in support of GIFT, where she also volunteers. She has lived on Hardy Street for four years and has spent the past three summers expanding her garden.

“Our summers are short in this area and so I think the garden tour is a great way for people to get out and meet others in the community,” Grant said.

Buzza visited all five gardens on Saturday and said she was grateful for the gardeners who participated and the community members who came out to support GIFT.

“They have helped more people than they could ever know,” Buzza said.

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