Visitors take a tour of Grandmothers’ Garden in Westfield in 2022.

Reminder Publishing file photo

WESTFIELD — There is a place in the heart of downtown called Grandmothers’ Garden, a special spot celebrating a major event this summer.

A memorial to “Grandmother Steiger,” the garden is celebrating its 90th anniversary with public events, fundraisers and improvements to the fragrant and colorful oasis in Chauncey Allen Park.

Planted in 1934, the garden was established to honor Albert Steiger’s mother. Steiger was a prominent Westfield businessman, famous for founding Steiger’s, a company with its flagship retail store in downtown Springfield.

Steiger donated the 10-acre park at King Street and Smith Avenue to the city of Westfield in 1930. The garden inside was designed in 1934 with straight, orderly paths through a mix of herbs, annuals, perennials and ornamentation, reminiscent of European gardens.

“The story behind the park intrigues people and makes them proud to be a resident of Westfield where everyone can enjoy what we call ‘A little downtown gem,’” said Lesley Lambert, a member of the garden’s anniversary committee.

Volunteers built and now maintain the garden, keeping the place in pristine shape. Lambert told Reminder Publishing the city, along with its business community and residents, has always supported the garden in times of need.

“We had a fundraising campaign to rebuild Grandmothers’ Garden in the 1990s. It had fallen into disrepair and needed to be completely dug up and re-done to the original plan because things had altered through the years,” she said.

A more recent plea for help went out, and by the middle of this month, more than 50 people offered to join the corps of volunteers who preserve the garden’s beauty. There are master gardeners in the group to teach people who want to help but are new to gardening and need the seeds of knowledge.

“Volunteers don’t have to be experienced gardeners because we have master gardeners on hand that will train others. I picked up a love of gardening myself, but I didn’t have a lot of experience, and I thought, if I volunteer, I can help out and learn, which I did,” said Lambert.

This summer the garden’s board of directors will use grant funding to make the showpiece an even more appealing place to visit.

“A $30,000 grant is being used for a study to create a plan for the future installation of a classroom, arboretum and seasonal bathroom. Further fundraising will be needed to realize this plan,” said Lambert.

These improvements to the park will be tricky and an expert is being called in to make sure everything goes smoothly.

“A lot of planning goes on when you’re dealing with a spot that has nature. We’ve got wetlands, wildlife and all different types of things that we have to watch out for. The planner we’re hiring will come in and make sure everything is done properly, so we’re not negatively impacting anything and are bringing in even more beauty, wildlife and plant life to the garden and the park,” said Lambert.

While there will be events at the garden all summer, the anniversary celebration will be held on Sept. 7. It will be a tribute to all grandparents, beginning with the one Grandmothers’ Garden remembers the most.

“The event is meant to honor grandparents and their grandchildren. And we will be hosting an afternoon of music, art, light refreshments and a silent auction,” said Lambert.

The sense of smell connects many people to their past, with the fragrance of flowers conjuring childhood memories — many may include favorite times in a garden. That’s the point of naming Westfield’s garden after a grandmother.

“That’s where the history comes from. It is memorializing an actual grandmother who loved to spend time with her flowers and family,” said Lambert.

Grandmothers’ Garden plays host to people all year, from walkers cutting through the park on a trip through downtown, to those finding peace and quiet during lunch or an afternoon break.

“It’s also a spot where people take their special occasion photos like proms, weddings and family pictures. We love seeing people in the garden enjoying the space,” said Lambert.

There will be a busy schedule of activities in the garden this summer, including Yoga Day in the Garden on June 15 and “Wetland Critters — A Program for Kids” on Aug. 18. There will also be a historical presentation about the garden at the Westfield Athenaeum on Aug. 19. For more information on all 90th anniversary season programs, or to learn how to volunteer, visit www.grandmothersgarden.org.

Staasi Heropoulos
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