Elizabeth Fischer Gets Gardening Done in Dover
Photo Credit: Ron Cole
Elizabeth “Beth” Fischer had spent a sunny morning last October working at the Joe B. Parks Riverwalk Public Garden in Dover. She had played an invaluable role over the years in transforming the once neglected and overgrown area along the Cocheco River into the public garden envisioned by its namesake. As a Strafford County Master Gardener, Beth already knew 92-year-old Joe Parks, renowned for his extensive collection of hybridized azaleas and rhododendrons.
Fourteen years later, Beth is still helping organize the volunteers who keep up the gardens along the Cocheco River. That day, she was working with several students from Dover Horticulture Curriculum and Strafford County Master Gardeners, as well as Joe Parks Garden Caregivers and volunteers at the garden, when one of the volunteers popped into the storage shed she was cleaning out to ask her to come to help them identify a plant. Squinting in the sunlight, she saw her husband and sister at one of the new benches from the Adopt-A-Bench program she had initiated. To her surprise, someone came out with a cake and the crowd of forty friends, volunteers, and Dover dignitaries cheered as they revealed a plaque that read: “Honoring Elizabeth Fischer for her diligent care of the Joe B. Parks Garden and steadfast civic service to the city of Dover”.
As the plaque implies, the Riverwalk Public Garden is not the only community activity Beth has been involved in. A Dover native, she sees her organizing skills as her major contribution to the many projects she has shepherded. A UNH Extension Master Gardener since 2003, Beth confesses that her home garden could be used as a demonstration of survival of the fittest. “I know where my strengths are, and I rely on others to remember all of the Latin names of the plants,” she explains.
According to Beth, the trick to success is to enlist volunteers (feed them well) and break down projects into pieces they can manage. The Joe Parks Garden, for example, has seventeen beds, each adopted by a team of Garden Tenders. Funds and volunteers have come from the Dover Rotary, Dover Main Street, Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts, Strafford County Master Gardeners, and local businesses and individuals. Her biggest challenge is “Mission Creep” – a problem most community organizers know well.
At the Woodman Museum, where Beth has served as an occasional volunteer, Beth helped organize two gardening projects. In 2012, she worked with Soak Up the Rain (a program run through the NH Department of Environmental Services) to install a rain garden that redirects rainwater from the roof gutters on the Woodman House, preventing over 19,000 gallons of storm runoff annually from reaching the Cocheco River. With Strafford County Master Gardeners leading the effort in 2016, Beth helped to install a garden on the campus of the Woodman Museum featuring plants that have medicinal and/or industrial uses as part of a Learning Lab. The garden includes native plants, such as Elderberry, Wild Blue Indigo, Lambs Ear, and Witch Hazel.
As Beth says, it is all about finding interesting community projects and initiatives and providing leadership and guidance to help Git it done!
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