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Lexington Landscapes: Island Oasises

Members of the Lexington Field and Garden Club maintain the town's traffic islands in grand fashion.

First, here's the bad news: the Lexington Field and Garden Club's (LFGC) bienniel garden tour was last Saturday, June 4, and if you missed it, you'll have to wait another two years to see the wonders Lexingtonians have wrought from seeds and soil at their homes.

The good news is that you can view plenty of other gardens the Club's members are maintaining in grand style any day of the year. If you drive through Lexington Center, you probably see them every day (bicyclists might have to go a bit out of their way to get a good look).

But do you even notice them? When was the last time you took a good look at Lexington's traffic islands?

Granted, they aren't all equally lovely all the time. In early May, hundreds of tulips—all planted by LFGC volunteers—erupted at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Maple Street. Now, that corner is green, not nearly as volcanic-looking as before.

This week, the action is at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Woburn Street. There, a grand black sign announces the names of towns with not-quite-random numbers written on them. For example, if you actually drive, walk, or bike “Arlington – 5” miles from that corner on Massachusetts Avenue, you'll end up at Foster Street across from Spy Pond Park—a lovely location, but not the first place Arlington-bound travelers might wish to go.

No, don't follow vague directions to odd corners of nearby towns. It's better to stay at the Woburn Street corner and admire the silly giant alliums, the big, purple balls on stalks that are New England's nearest equivalent to a Truffula tree (for all you Lorax fans). There are respectable deep velvet purple iris flowers as well, and bright pink azaleas for people who aren't quite so fond of purple.

There aren't any pale purple flowers, though, for people who wish purple wasn't quite so, well, purple.

“Everything has to be vivid because people are driving by,” said Varda Haimo, LFGC member and organizer of the Woburn island work crew. “You don't want to do all these lavenders.”

Haimo started on the island when she joined the LFGC two years ago. She works with a landscape designer and other sturdy volunteers to keep the island beautiful—which takes a lot of work.“It's bigger than it looks, “ Haimo said.

For example, to improve the soil, last year, the town brought over a truckload of compost, then a truckload of mulch to keep the soil from drying out more than it already does (more about that in a moment). LFGC volunteers spent over 15 hours just shoveling compost and mulch all over the island. Last fall, the same stalwart crew planted 250 bulbs there. Did you notice?

This particular island does have water on site, but volunteers still have to get out the hose, turn the water on and monitor the progress on this sunny, arid site. “You an water for an hour and a half and it will stay dry,” Haimo said.

Still, island gardening has its rewards. Haimo has two types of encounters with passers-by when she tends to the garden. She sees “people ready to kill each other” in Mass Ave traffic, and people who stop by to say how wonderful the island is or occasionally ask why the gardeners are deadheading the flowers.

“I get more compliments doing that for anything else in my life,” Haimo said. “It's tremendously satisfying. ... I think it makes a difference in what the town is like.”

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