Part of what lights up the season is the upwelling of kindness that accompanies the holidays. It starts with being thankful and swells as holiday decorations sprout across our winter-bare New England landscape. Young and old turn to each other in warm greeting, excited to gather and celebrate, and we feel the pull to reach out to those around us with compassion, to increase the joy of all.

Many of Manchester’s community organizations accept the holiday challenge to do a little more and weave themselves into the holiday fabric. The Manchester Garden Club (MGC) happily embraces these holiday opportunities, crowning a year of civic stewardship by trading in their trowels for floral snips and undertaking a flurry of decorating projects to transform historic North Shore locations into tableaus of winter cheer.

In its 57-year history, the MGC has grown from a small group of garden-interested members to 70 members, many of whom participate in volunteer opportunities. Their passion for gardening has sent members out into our community, maintaining beds at Masconomo Park, Seaside One, the library, and the Manchester Historical Museum. Dozens of MGC members design, plant, and provide seasonal cleanup for these areas in a tradition going back nearly to its founding. For the span of ten years, a devoted sub-committee with the moniker Daffodil Darlings led by determined members Chris Kinney and Kirsten Smith-Page, planted over 10,000 daffodil bulbs throughout town, all with the hope of brightening the spring vista for their neighbors.

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Author Maria Schmidt, president of the Manchester Garden Club, on the front vestibule stairs of the Manchester Historical Museum during this year’s seasonal decorating.

This December marks the third consecutive year that the club has returned to its tradition of decorating local museums for the holidays, including our own Trask House and the Crane Estate in Ipswich. It was a natural progression to combine the clubs’ floral arranging know-how with the Manchester Historical Museum’s desire to create a period-appropriate, immersive holiday experience for townspeople. If you attended the MHM open house during Christmas-by-the-Sea, you were transported to a Victorian holiday home, each room bursting with floral and evergreen accents. At the heart of this partnership’s success is the vision of Decorating Chair Constance Leahy and the generous sponsorship of Northeast Nursery, owned by MGC member Dyane Cotreau and her husband Andrew. During the same week, MGC designers headed to the Crane Estate at Castle Hill. The Trustees property is transformed annually for a celebration of Christmas. Energized by winning the People’s Choice Award at last year’s event, garden club volunteers this year tackled Mrs. Crane’s three-room suite, creating an “old-fashioned Christmas” tableau. As though Mrs. Crane had just stepped away from the room, the trappings of American royalty dotted the suite — needlepoint overflowing a table, Christmas cards next to an ink well, and a sherry decanter poised to close the evening. Fresh floral arrangements in grand scale were the centerpiece of the design.

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The core decorating group at the Crane Estate in Ipswich as seen in the room the Manchester Garden Club decorated for the Trustees’ big holiday extravaganza. From left, Maria Schmidt, Constance Leahy, Teresa Ramirez, Lynne Comb and Dyane Cotreau.

To look back on the MGC year of community work is to bask in a couple wonderful truisms: When you work doing what you love (volunteering included), it’s hardly “work” at all. And - with a little care and the right conditions, the seed of kindness flourishes like everything else in our gardens. The Manchester Garden Club would like to thank the dedicated arrangers who made this holiday season a success: Regine Adam, Gail Browne, Dyane Cotreau, Carol Darbyshire, Lisa Hollis, Constance Leahy, Teresa Ramirez, Maria Schmidt, Margaret Maher-Sheahan and Laura Winn.

Maria Schmidt lives in Manchester with her family and is president of the Manchester Garden Club.