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BEAUTIFUL BLOSSOMS: "The garden has really thrived. I wanted it to be a full-season garden, and I planned it so that things would bloom at different times." Master Gardener Polly Burlingham stands amidst a profusion of pink and white flox in the Barbara Boggs Sigmund Garden. End of caption.

Barbara Boggs Sigmund Garden Is a Gem in Borough "Pocket" Park

Jean Stratton

Finding yet another treasure in Princeton's plethora of pleasures and treasures is a summertime surprise. For many Princeton residents and passersby, the Barbara Boggs Sigmund Garden is a delight just discovered.

Adjacent to the Barbara Boggs Sigmund playground at Hamilton Avenue and Chestnut Street, it is filled with a glorious late summer profusion of color – pink, lavender, yellow, orange, green, white and more. Plantings include impatiens, flox, ferns, black-eyed Susans, hosta, hydrangea, day lilies, and a butterfly bush.

Two benches and brick walkways contribute to the harmonious atmosphere – an invitation to come in and enjoy the natural beauty of this special place.

Unsung heroes are the backbone of a community, and it is certainly true in the case of this garden. Three years ago, it had lost much of its vitality, and was languishing. It took the sharp eye of a concerned citizen, who saw the opportunity to bring it back to life, and was willing to invest the time and effort to make a difference.

"I'd been driving past the garden for a long time, and it bothered me that it was going steadily down hill," says Princeton resident and Master Gardener Polly Burlingham. "There had been no improvement to the soil and no watering. I thought it was a shame that such a lovely start wasn't being maintained.

"The raised bed garden had been installed after former Mayor Barbara Sigmund died in 1990, and was adjacent to the Barbara Sigmund Park playground. I don't think parks in Princeton meet their potential. In Europe and Scandinavia, towns have glorious plantings. So in 2000, 10 years after Barbara Sigmund died, I started looking into the possibility of doing something about it."

HAPPY AND HEALTHY: A colorful array of summer flowers is flourishing in the Barbara Boggs Sigmund Garden. Impatiens, hosta, flox, lambs ear, geraniums, hydrangea, and toad lilies are among the varieties seen in the garden after Polly Burlingham volunteered her services.
End of caption.

Something Beautiful

Ms. Burlingham was especially interested in the garden because she had great admiration for the late mayor. "I thought Barbara Sigmund was a mayor with a presence. I always admired her, especially her bravery when she was ill and how she took an eye patch and made it a fashion statement. She made me feel part of the town. This was my mayor, and I didn't want her garden to fall into disrepair. I knew I could turn it into something beautiful."

Ms. Burlingham, who had loved gardening since she was a girl, had the expertise, and lots of ideas for the garden and its revitalization, but no budget.

"I went to Barbara Sigmund's good friend, Anne Reeves, head of the Arts Council of Princeton, and told her I was concerned about the condition of the garden, and I wanted to adopt it," she recalls. "Anne Reeves was very enthusiastic and supportive. She arranged for the Arts Council to provide me with a small stipend, which has been ongoing, and I put that money toward the purchase of bulbs and soil amendments."

There was a lot of hard work ahead, and Ms. Burlingham recruited friends and family to help in a variety of ways.

First Season

"The first season, my two daughters, Isabel and Olivia, now 17 and 11, and three Master Gardener friends helped me turn over the beds. We replenished the soil with compost, peat moss, and manure. We planted hundreds of bulbs as well as perennials from my own flower beds. Now we have a hose hook-up, but at first we had to carry garbage cans filled with water. Especially last summer, when it was so hot and didn't rain.

"The Borough donated mulch, and the Public Works Department has been helpful in delivering it, and also in mowing the park and hooking up the water. They do the heavier work."

But there is still the necessary digging and planting always waiting for the volunteers, as well as regular weeding and watering.

Under the leadership of Ms. Burlingham, the restoration of the garden has been a combined effort of a variety of volunteers. She was able to get plants from friends and from nurseries in the area.

"I solicited donations of plants from all my Master Gardener friends and neighbors," she explains. "And also, because I had such a small budget and couldn't finance the garden myself, I tried to think of creative ways to build a plant inventory for six large beds. One way was to ask nurseries for plants, and Kale's generously donated their end-of-season remainders. Another way was to have a tree planted in memory of someone who died. There are now three memorial plantings – two dogwoods, and a lilac.

"I saw this as especially good for the park because it brings in a group of people, who come and help with the planting in tribute to the person, and now they, too, will feel a connection with this park and garden."

Master Gardener

Ms. Burlingham's experience as a Master Gardener (sponsored by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, affiliated with Rutgers University) has been invaluable in determining what plantings will best thrive in the part shade/part sun garden.

"Since I wanted it to be a full-season garden, including flowers, bulbs, trees, and shrubs, with early flowering perennials and plants and interesting foliage, and different things blooming at different times, it was important to get the right donations. In the beginning, we needed daffodil bulbs, ferns, hosta, astilbe, columbine, lamb ears, and campanula, among others.

"It is a particularly beautiful spring garden, with bulbs and gorgeous flowers – daffodils, crocuses, columbine, bleeding hearts, lily of the valley, and azalea," she continues. "Annuals are added to carry the garden through the summer and fall."

Ms. Burlingham also has long-range plans to introduce plantings alongside the fencing enclosing the playground, she adds.

"I also hope to have an arborvitae screening hedge, and I hope someone will donate toward this. The biggest challenge is to maintain the garden while operating on a shoestring.

"This garden has inspired me to branch out and establish Green Gardens, a business specializing in container and patio gardens and revitalizing existing gardens," she says. "I also do a lot of parties and events, and I enjoy educating people about the importance of maintaining their garden, so they will have success and enjoy it.

Beautification Program

"What the Barbara Boggs Sigmund Garden has shown me is that if you have someone taking care of something, it will flourish. What Princeton really needs is someone to be in charge of a beautification program. Someone has to care enough to do this. I thought to take this as my personal community project. I hoped this could become a community service park, and I wanted to show my kids that by giving back to the community, you reap the rewards. Now, they and their friends continue to help weed, deadhead, and water."

The garden has now become almost self-sufficient, she reports, and it has thrived to a point where it is planted so fully, there is hardly room for weeds. Mulch and organic material continue to be added, and in the future , she plans to divide the perennials to share with others.

"I believe I have achieved what I wanted to achieve," she says, smiling. "One of my pleasures is that when I am working or watering in the garden, people driving or walking by stop to chat or wave. And now whenever I drive by, I have a sense of accomplishment, and I feel Barbara Sigmund would be happy."

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