Winthrop Improvement & Historical Association (WIHA) members have been preparing and maintaining the grounds of the Deane Winthrop House before special events for decades, trimming hedges and bushes, and aerating and plugging the lawn. On September 26, Sandy Joneck-Schiff, past president, and Carole Brown, board member, founded the WIHA Garden Club, dedicated to the ongoing care of the yard.
“The house is a living museum, and the grounds could be,” exclaimed Joneck-Schiff. “We’re challenged with keeping the property usable for venue rental. It still has to be open. Right now, we’ll design the perimeters.”
Joneck-Schiff and Brown’s vision is to return the nearly acre of land to its historic, 17th century splendor by producing simple-to-cultivate crops using colonial methods. The friends plan to grow native plants such as otto file corn, pumpkins, and flax.
“We’d like to bring back indigenous crops the way that the inhabitants may have used them,” said Joneck-Schiff.
Joneck-Schiff and Brown also discussed the possibility of housing bees and chickens.
“Our vision is going to take a lot of time,” acknowledged Brown, who would like to provide residents with a peaceful place within nature. “This is a beautiful, green space, which we lack in Winthrop. There is a lot of condo and apartment living. We have no earth space, and we want this to be a place where people can garden and enjoy. It’s wonderful to be able to feel the earth and be creative.”
Joneck-Schiff and Brown have been collecting salt marsh hay from Coughlin Park to incorporate as mulch in the garden, as colonists would have. Salt marsh hay grows naturally on the Eastern Seaboard, is accessible, free, and high in nutrients, like nitrogen.
“We’d like to bring back the sustainability that the colonists lived by,” explained Brown. “We’d like to keep things sustainable through composting, rain water barrels, and more.”
The ladies are in the process of designing an herb garden beside the kitchen of the Deane Winthrop House. Joneck-Schiff and Brown explained how colonists would grow multifunctional herbs to season their food and use medicinally.
“One of the things the Winthrop Improvement & Historical Association does is beautify the town,” said Brown. “We’d like to spread that involvement. It can bring people together.”
Joneck-Schiff and Brown plan to offer monthly educational opportunities and activities in the Deane Winthrop House barn, especially during the winter. A felting workshop using sheep wool, a class in using sheep wool as mulch around roots to retain moisture and prevent the growth of weeds, a composting course, and a class in natural fabric dyeing using plants grown in the garden are a list of possible presentations.
Joneck-Schiff and Brown are naturalists, members of the Friends of Belle Isle Marsh, and love tending to their home gardens.
Joneck-Schiff is an artist, and bee keeper; and enjoys helping her son care for his Weymouth apple orchard. She belongs to several, local, historic and horticultural organizations. Joneck-Schiff attributes her passion for nature to being raised by a family of botanists who maintained a hydroponic garden at their three-story Victorian home.
Brown’s love of gardening was inherited from her Italian immigrant grandparents, who grew crops on the roof of their East Boston home.
The WIHA Garden Club meet on Saturdays, 10am-12pm, and Thursdays/Fridays, 2-4pm, weather permitting, up until Thanksgiving. Joneck-Schiff and Brown are encouraging all to join the Garden Club – not only WIHA members. Contact Sandy Joneck-Schiff at (617) 407-3438, or Carole Brown at (978) 604-5299 to learn more about the Garden Club.
“It’s going to make an impact on the grounds of the Winthrop House. They’re making a difference already,” beamed WIHA President Michael Herbert, during the October 3 meeting. “It is a labor of love. Carole and Sandy are doing a beautiful job.”