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Saugus Gardens in the Summer

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Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable


By Laura Eisener


Carol Nadeau, secretary of St. Margaret Parish in Cliftondale, recently found some very intriguing pieces of Saugus memorabilia online – two trophies won by Saugus High School, in 1912 and 1913, at the American Sweet Pea Society’s exhibit in Boston, Mass. In 1913, Saugus High Principal James F. Butterworth noted in his report for the year that “For two years in succession the Saugus High School has been awarded the F.R. Pierson Cup given to the high schools for the best exhibit of sweet peas in the July display of the American Sweet Pea Association.” In 1912, engravers were not familiar with our town’s name, since it was spelled “Sagus” twice! By the following year, the Sweet Pea Society had learned to spell the name of Saugus, because the trophy awarded that year reads “F.W. Pierson Cup American Sweet Pea Society’s Exhibit Boston July 12 and 13 – 1913 Won by Saugus High School”. It was common in those days for high schools to compete in statewide and national horticultural and agricultural competitions. Principal Butterworth also notes that a Saugus High boy won second prize in a statewide potato farming competition that year.

The American Sweet Pea Society was very active in the first and second decade of the 20th century, when they exhibited regularly in flower shows and published a bulletin, but there is no online information about recent activities. There is, however, a Facebook group for a National Sweet Pea Society, which is based in the United Kingdom and holds similar competitions. Sweet peas were all the rage in the latter half of the 19th century in Great Britain and North America, largely due to the work of a Scottish nurseryman, Henry Eckford, who did extensive breeding work developing new and showier varieties.

While sweet peas may have lost some of their popularity in recent decades, there are similar societies for other kinds of flowers. There is, for example, an American Dahlia Society, and dahlias, asters, marigolds and a few other flowers that bloom in late summer and fall have their own exhibit categories at the Topsfield Fair later this month. There is also a National Sunflower Association, although it is as much about producing sunflowers for seed and oils as for ornamental flowers. Sunflower production for agricultural purposes is very popular in the Midwest, but we do see sunflowers grown for decoration, pick-your-own bouquets and agrotourism in New England.

Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus) is a very fragrant and colorful annual vine. Flowers are similar in shape but larger than those of the peas raised as a vegetable (Pisum sativum), and sweet pea seeds may even be slightly poisonous if eaten in large quantities. Flower colors are usually purple, pink, red or white or combinations of those colors.

Adele Shanbar’s hydrangeas on Fernwood Road in Oaklandvale are spectacular this year, just covered in blossoms. She was inspired to plant them years ago after noticing the hydrangeas at the Stanley Egan Memorial at the corner of Howard Street and Main Street, and now has planted quite a few in honor of family members. She has planted trees and shrubs for each of her children and at the births of each of her grandchildren. Some of the hydrangeas in front are ‘Limelight’ hydrangea (paniculata ‘Limelight’) and some are either ‘Pinky Winky’ or ‘Quickfire’

(Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Quickfire’). Unlike bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla), panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) form their flower buds in the spring of the year they will bloom, so the rainy spring weather was very helpful in developing lots of blossoms. There is also a beautiful Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) in the front of the house which you might enjoy seeing in this column in the winter, though it is attractive in every season.


  Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of COVID. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.

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