It Was a Jungle...

My name is Leora.  I’m a compulsive gardener.  But I’m not looking to be cured of my habit.

Five years ago, I brought an out-of-town visitor to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center for a tour.  I asked if they needed volunteers and was told “Yes, especially in the gardens.”  I almost swooned; it was the opportunity I’d been looking for.

The Wildflower Garden

I soon began learning about the history of Harriet’s garden from Beth Burgess, historian and the staff member in charge of overseeing the grounds. At the time Judith and her friend Cathy were the only other garden volunteers, and they very nicely kept up the gardens in and around Harriet’s House (the grey one) and the Day House (the red one) next door.

They had their hands full with those, and I noticed that there were numerous garden areas that were terribly neglected.  It had been more than seven (7) years since the Stowe Center had a paid consultant to maintain the

gardens. The Wildflower Garden just south of the Stowe House seemed to be evolving into a crabgrass garden. I started weeding and found peonies shaded by overgrown shrubs. An out-of-control Bridal Wreath Spirea (my favorite shrub) overshadowing a floundering Mock Orange on one side and a Lilac on the other.  New-to-me Flowering Almond crowding out the most heavenly-scented old Rose I’ve ever encountered.  (Come in June and you’ll be glad you have a nose!)

The Woodland Garden

The Woodland Garden, just east of the Visitor’s Center, was a jungle.  There were overgrown weeds two feet high.  There was a dead tree hiding among elderly Mountain Laurel. There was a 40-foot Rhododendron, being strangled by the invasive Bittersweet vine, and threatening to take down the back fence. When I started clearing and trimming, I discovered two lovely little Deutzia shrubs, some Solomon’s Seal which had been quietly spreading in the shade, and several healthy four-foot-tall Azaleas which just needed a little pruning to bring out their best. One of them even blooms in the fall!

The magnificent State Champion Merrill Magnolia looming over Harriet’s House on the West side is an amazing sight when it blooms in May. It thrives by sending out limbs which root when they touch the ground, making for an almost impenetrable forest. My friend Ron helped in pruning some of the growth which was shading what were supposed to be full sun gardens. We also cut down trees which had planted themselves on the Farmington Avenue side of the property (probably thanks to birds) and trimmed dead wood which threatened to fall.  I say “we”, but it was Ron who did the ladder climbing, chain-sawing and heavy lifting. He graciously allowed me to pick up and load small branches in his truck for disposal.

The Original Paw Paw Tree; planted 1930s

A few summers ago, we attacked the overgrown and frankly unattractive plot of Barberries on the corner of Forest St. and Farmington Ave.  We dug them out, along with Poison Ivy and more Bittersweet, and replanted with Azaleas and a Fringe tree.  We also pruned the twisted and overgrown Mountain Laurel on the North side of

Harriet’s house and in the Paw Paw garden, which is across the drive from the Merrill Magnolia.  Are you looking for the Paw Paws in the Paw Paw Garden?  Unfortunately, they fell in a storm in 2020.  There were plenty of shoots from the Paw Paw roots but these don’t grow to bear fruit.  We were lucky that in the past Dan Furman of Cricket Hill Nursery propagated the original. He donated one back to us and we are hoping it will establish itself as a replacement.

Garden Volunteer Leora, with KNOX apprentices

The past two summers a friend named Susan has been helping with the constant task of pulling the weeds that don’t stop growing just because we’re trimming Roses or planning the new Pollinator Garden. And this summer we’ve had a volunteer who’s working on her Master Gardening Certificate who’s given us some hours as part of her required internship.  Perhaps Sue will one day join our crew of volunteers, who knows?  And there’s room and plenty of “work” for others if you’re interested.


As for me, I’m still addicted to gardening. And I don’t plan to quit any time soon!


Interested in being a Garden Volunteer yourself?  Email BBurgess@stowecenter.org to get connected!

Leora B., Garden Volunteer


Leora is a mostly-retired Doctor of Optometry who has been compulsively gardening her entire adult life.  She is also passionate about reading, singing in the West Hartford Women’s Chorale, and her two-year-old granddaughter.