By Rachael Brown
The Coos Botanical Garden Club grew out of a passion. Will O’Brien planted the seed. His idea was to get local growers and the community to work together to share their knowledge of organic growing, conservation and beautification.
It has been 10 years since the club began, O’Brien says things are going well, change is happening.
“I started this in 2006. It was my brainchild. I thought about starting a club where growers would work together with the Berlin and Gorham rec departments and Northern Human Services in conservation and beautification,” said the affable and enthusiastic O’Brien, director and ambassador of the Coos Botanical Club.
O’Brien has the agricultural background. He created a botanical garden club which includes a botanical garden park, labeled theme gardens and a wildlife habitat garden club, all the while educating children and adults.
“I lived in Tennessee, and grew up on a dairy farm, as a kid I knew how to grow things organically. We had 700 chickens. We used to put the eggs in shopping carts and peddle them throughout the neighborhood. We did pretty well,” he beamed, adding he also studied conservation and worked with N.H. Fish and Game.
The club collaborates with Northern Human Services at the Community Services Center in Berlin, the Berlin Rec Department, the Gorham Rec Department, the National Wildlife Federation, WREN, Berlin Farmer’s Market Community Garden, Peabody Farm House Museum of Shelburne, Top Notch Inn and Mount Moriah Cottage of Gorham, N.H. Arts and Libations and local farms.
"This year the theme of the club is 'club to farm' and 'club to garden,'" O’Brien said. “We mange gardens in Berlin and Gorham with volunteer staff and the help of Northern Human Services. We couldn’t do it without the support of human services.”
The locations include Laura Lee Vigor Botanical Garden in Berlin, Gorham Community Planters and Gardens, Wildlife Habitat Garden at Peabody Farm House Museum and Berlin Farmer’s Market Community Garden.
“We have a couple of freebies, too, the gardens at Rite-Aid, the White Mountain Cafe and Sears in Gorham. We also put in 73 hours at WREN. Don Myers donated the vegetables,” added O’Brien.
A garden to cultivate the senses
Taste, touch, smell, see and hear. That’s what the sensory garden at Gorham Common exhibits.
“The sensory garden and planter at the podium, which Josh Labonville built, is filled with herbs and bright flowers. Children can taste and touch, adults, too. We show people how to utilize herbs,” explained O’Brien.
One of the group's goals is to educate.
“We want to teach youth and children to grow organically. Teachers help educate kids about plants that attract animals, O’Brien said. Children are excited to see how things grow, they like to touch and harvest. Some say they didn’t know green beans taste like that, and there is nothing like a garden tomato, especially grown organically,” he added.
We talk about and experience wildlife habitats, said O’Brien.
Speaking of habitats, the club is in the process of being certified by the National Wildlife Federation.
“We supply the four things needed for wildlife: a place for animals to have young, food, shelter and water. We have sent in all the information to become certified and are just waiting for the approval,” said O’Brien.
The club is not dormant in the winter.
"The Gorham Library is our satellite. During the winter we have monthly presentations," said O'Brien. And just before the winter season on Nov. 14 is the Golden Shovel Award.
“The Northland Dairy Bar is our sponsor for the awards dinner. We recognize three people for their outstanding work and the Best Favored Club Event,” O’Brien said.
Speaking of dinners, Merrily Lepage’s Joyful Farm in Gorham hosts the potluck, Yankee swap Christmas Party and other dinners.
“Will and I met and he asked me to join the club. I went to the first club meeting two years ago. We have some events here, the Christmas party, we had a maple syrup gathering last spring,” said Lepage, an ambassador for the club.
The 2-acre farm is home to chickens, goats and abundance of tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, squashes, corn, hay, elderberries and apples. Lepage cans what ever she is able to and is making her own dandelion wine.
“We hope the wine is ready for Christmas,” she added.
‘We like to talk to people, to promote a healthy way of living. People seem to be more interested in what they put in their bodies and on their bodies. While Lepage was talking, Dick Downs, a customer, came in for his goat milk and eggs.
He said, “This is the most interesting place in town. Well, actually the North Country. And this is the coolest stuff.” Downs was referring to one of the natural healing balms, Baack-Off, which is made from goat’s milk.
Lepage’s products can be found on her farm, at the Berlin Farmer’s Market and at the Gorham Corner Market.
Allen and Tina Binette, owners of the Corner Market and gas station since July, are excited about featuring local products and food. They see change happening.
“Anyone who has a farm, we take them in for our products. Our big seller is bread and eggs. People request pork, too,” said Tina Binette.
“People want to know where their food comes from, what am I ingesting?,” added Allen Binette.
“Just the other day, a customer came in and purchased green pepper, onion and hamburger, just about a whole meal from local products,” smiled Tina.
To celebrate local, this past June, New Hampshire Arts and Libations held a benefit for the club at the Mount Moriah Cottage next to the Top Notch Inn in Gorham. The event brings together artists, gardeners and the community.
“We have fancy dishes and live music, it is a fund-raiser for the club. Will does so much for the club, I can’t say enough about him,” said Sally Brassill, inn owner and one of the organizers of the event.
O’Brien suggests people check their website for events and to give a call first, sometimes dates are adjusted because of the weather.
A schedule of events, along with membership information, can also be found at Gorham Public Library.
“We have a lot of fun and the dishes are extraordinary,” said O’Brien.
For more information: visit botanicalgarden191.weebly.com, call Will O’Brien, (603) 466-2181 or visit the club on Facebook.