Georgeville Historical Society / Societé d'histoire de Georgeville

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Story of the Garden

Following the founding of the Georgeville Historical Society in 1991, director Katherine Mackenzie, a skilled gardener and published botanical artist, proposed creating a pioneer garden to commemorate the early New Englanders who first settled the village.

Joan Murray, a fellow director, leased a plot of land on her property to the Society for the garden.  The rent was a mere dollar per year. This prime location in the heart of the village opposite the village green had been in earlier days the site of a prominent stagecoach inn. That establishment had been owned and managed by Levi Bigelow from 1841 to 1867. The GHS decided that the new garden would be named, appropriately, the Bigelow Pioneer Garden. Jacques Valiquette, the current owner of the land, now leases the site to the Society for the same token sum.

Katherine Mackenzie initiated the whole project, took up researching pioneer gardens and consulted with historic garden specialists in nearby New England. The final design consisted of an enclosed garden, formally laid out in four main beds. These beds were planted with the useful plants needed in pioneer households, remote from shops and pharmacies. The beds contained culinary plants, medicinal plants, household plants and a bed devoted to plants mentioned in the Bible – a traditional New England feature. A narrow border for flowers framed the garden.

Each year, the volunteer gardeners held plant sales to raise money for the plants and maintenance. They held a successful tour of several fine local gardens and even sold herbal vinegar made from the culinary herbs. It was always hoped that the garden could be self-supporting but this was not always possible.  Katherine Mackenzie in a 1996 report wrote: “The garden is in its fourth summer and should be a very presentable garden for the Bicentennial.” And it was.

In 2003, a Vin d’honneur was held in the garden to mark its 10th anniversary. By then Katherine Mackenzie was living in a retirement home in Knowlton but the garden was in excellent condition thanks to her many years of dedication.

Care of the garden fell to a keen group of volunteers organized by GHS director Valerie Pasztor. Valerie organized the planting and maintenance and kept excellent records of the heritage garden plants. As well, she was a regular hands-on gardener herself.

As the years passed, the level of volunteerism began to wane, the plant sales declined, and the need for structural repairs became apparent. With the garden beginning to fade and looking its age, it was time to attract more active volunteers.

The group was revitalized, in time for the 20th anniversary of the garden in 2013. New volunteers were enlisted and the garden’s activities were restructured. Suzanne Marcil, an experienced and committed gardener, was named the coordinator in charge of planting. Fittingly, Valerie Pasztor was honoured and named “Gardener Emeritus.”

In 2013 and the following summer, a revitalization plan went into effect. Fences and benches were repaired, the arbors strengthened, the plant beds refurbished. An attractive cedar and pebble-stone bed was installed under the fence creating a tidy exterior. A handsome new sign was donated and installed near the boardwalk.

An appeal to the community for funds to support the 20th Anniversary revitalizations proved successful. Interested villagers donated funds, and materials, as well as their time and labour. It was the spirit of the village at its best.

Since then, improvements continue to enhance the appearance of the garden. The plant beds have been beautifully laid out, restored to their original geometric plan, and with fresh cedar-log edging installed. Added to the scene is a neat discrete, barn-siding shed donated by “two friends” of the garden. The new structure has proved quite useful for the volunteers to store their supplies and tools.

A novel addition to the site has been a beloved scarecrow Hannah, named after Levi Bigelow’s wife. Hannah presides over the garden hopefully deterring all flying creatures from ravaging the plants within the garden’s perimeter. Hannah’s appearance changes with the seasons, but she is always dressed appropriately. Over the year different themes are highlighted as well including Fall Harvest, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter.

Historical Garden Reference Book - A big thank-you to Jacques Valiquette for his donation of a wonderful book – Flore Laurentienne – compiled and published in 1935 by Frère Marie-Victorin, featuring over 20 maps and 2800 illustrations by Frère Alexandre, L. Sc., who was also a professor of Biology at École Mont-Saint-Louis.

The books are now in the Bigelow section of the Georgeville Historical Society’s Archives, where they can be consulted by members.

Donation Box - There has been a generous and welcome addition to the Garden – the installation of a donation box, constructed by Victoria Vinters. Located to the left of the entrance gate, and resembling a bird house, it has attracted the attention of many generous and supportive garden visitors.

Dog Tether - While we like to welcome all to the Garden, it is appreciated and encouraged to leave four-legged friends outside the fence. A post and hook to hold dog leads has been installed to the right of the gate.

Plant of the Week - Each week one of the plants in the Garden is featured. Thanks to the generosity of Pierre Marcotte in Magog, we now have a decorative wrought iron stand where information about the featured plant is on display.

Garden Bench - Larry Bernier has built a new bench to replace the old one situated under the apple tree adjacent the Garden . It is very comfortable and provides a shaded resting spot for visitors.

Bigelow Banner -A permanent Bigelow Garden banner has been commissioned for display at the annual Georgeville Canada Day Parade and other special events.

Friends of the Bigelow Garden / Les amis du jardin Bigelow

​Nancy Amos
Paul Bannerman
Claude Lagacé
Marie-Andree Longtin
Francine Caron Markwell
Mary Ann Mongeau
Brenda Parsons
Valerie Pasztor
Judy Rochester
Jacques Valiquette
Fran Williams

Volunteers / Les bénévoles

The Bigelow Garden volunteers meet on Monday mornings (9:00 to 10:30 am) from mid-May to the end of September.

Suzanne Marcil (Head Gardener)
​Judy Bachelder
Martin Bosch
Jill Cobbett
Gretchen Colby
Aileen Desbarats
Louise Hébert
Christian Hurlow
Lesley Hyndman
Judy Macarthur
Jennifer Sudlow
Elsie Sullivan
Nancy Sullivan