October 26, 2015

Volunteer Update: Parsons Volunteer Recognition Dinner

By Carol Raymond, Volunteer Coordinator

Volunteers enjoy dinner and visiting at Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant.
The annual Parsons Volunteer Recognition Dinner was held in September at Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant in Meredith. Almost 80 volunteers and staff attended the dinner, which was generously sponsored by Cross Insurance Agency, Patty Stewart Associates, and Hart’s Turkey Farm.

Dave Erler talks about the Blue Jay research study.
At the dinner, Senior Naturalist Dave Erler recognized a volunteer group of 23 Blue Jay Observers for their help during the three-year project, which was completed at the end of 2014. Volunteer observers were: Shaun Flynn, Elizabeth Fortson, Pat James, Mary Kahn, Kathy Letsky, Dom Marocco, Irene Marocco, Don Margeson, Peggy Martin, Missy Mason, Denise Moulis, Ron Piro, Nance Ruhm, Bill Sharp, Ashley Spooner, Pam Stearns, Susan Stepp, Rob Stewart, Carol Stewart, Lisetta Silvestri, Jan Welch, Marc White, and Betsy Whitmore.

“Volunteers Complete the Picture” in the Trailhead Gallery is updated each year to show cumulative hours of volunteer service. Volunteers who achieved 200 hours in 2014 were Bob Gosselin and Liz Hager. Lisa Davis, Dan Kemp, and Steve Hackett advanced to the 500 hour level. Pat James, Karin Karagozian, Denise Moulis, and Susan Stepp reached 1,000 hours. The staff extends its thanks and appreciation to all volunteers for their tremendous gifts of time and dedication.
Natalie Parsons

The Presidents Service Awards is a nationally program honoring Americans who inspire others to volunteer through their example. Executive Director Iain MacLeod awarded pins and certificates to those volunteers eligible for the President’s Volunteer Service Award for service in 2014. Jim Barry received the Silver Award for donating over 250 hours. Bronze Award recipients who donated between100 and 250 hours were: Lisa Davis , Nancy-Jane Duncan, Kenneth Evans, Dennis Hager, Pat James, Barb Laverack, John McRae, Elaine Melquist, Denise Moulis, Gary Robertson, Nance Ruhm, Judy Sniffen, and Lea Stewart.

Volunteers in action:

October 21, 2015

Citizen Science Blue Jay Project Results

By Dave Erler, Senior Naturalist

Over the past three years (2012-2014), many of you visiting the “Celebrate Birds Exhibit” may have noticed some research going on. If you were there early in the morning, you might have visited with volunteers as they intently watched the coming and goings of Blue Jays at the feeders inside the aviary. The volunteers were helping with the Blue Jay Project, which grew from a question I had pondered for 30 years while watching Blue Jays at my home. Blue Jays are intelligent social birds and I often watched them jockey for position on feeders I could see from my kitchen table. Occasionally, I put “leftovers” in a wire mesh basket near another feeder. I grew curious about which jays would be the first to try the leftovers. Was it the bully at the tray feeder or one the birds that had been chased off?

In 2011, the aviary population of non-releasable songbirds exhibited over the previous 15 years had been reduced to one Mourning Dove. Sensing an opportunity, I made a proposal to the staff with my idea to answer some Blue Jay questions. With no opposition, I proceeded to plan the project. The project had three goals:
  • Give visitors an opportunity to observe Blue Jays up close. 
  • Include an accompanying exhibit on Citizen Science. 
  • Conduct research to determine if social hierarchy in Blue Jays affects their use of novel foods.
The first hurdle to cross was to obtain research permits from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department to capture and color-band Blue Jays. Once the permits were secured, work began to modify the bird exhibit aviary. Additional perches and roof panels were installed and two 24-inch by 9-inch tray feeders were suspended 30 inches from the ground using light chains attached to the aviary roof. Pictures of the color-banded jays were put into the exhibit panels that formerly identified the various songbirds in the aviary. Two exhibit signs were created and placed alongside the observation windows. One explained the project and the other explained the role of citizens contributing to real science.

In April of each year volunteers were trained and 10 Blue Jays were captured in funnel traps. At capture the Blue Jays were aged, weighed, and measured. Blue Jays can be aged as either first year birds or after first year (adult) by looking at the markings on the outer wing coverts (small feathers overlapping the primary flight feathers). Half the Jays captured were first year and half were adults. We were unable to determine the sex of the birds since male and female Blue Jays are not dimorphic in their plumage and they were not in breeding condition at the time of capture. Before releasing the jays into the aviary each bird was color banded. The color bands consisted of two colored plastic bands placed on the right leg of each bird. The different combinations of color bands allowed us to identify each bird. Once in the aviary the birds had time to acclimate to their new surroundings. Observation periods began on May 1.

The project had two phases. The first phase was to determine which Blue Jays were dominant and which were more submissive. This was determined by which bird displaced another at a feeder that contained a commercial songbird seed mix and pelletized commercial captive bird diet. After two months of observations the hierarchy was established and the second phase began. Over the three years of the project, the first phase covered a total of 162 days with 13,988 observations.

The second phase focused on determining the order in which the Blue Jays arrived at the feeder and how often they utilized a novel food. A novel food was introduced during each observation period on one feeder, with the second feeder containing the regular diet. A coin flip determined which feeder received the regular diet or novel food. Fifty novel foods were used each year, including different sizes, shapes, and colors of dyed cooked pasta, large parrot pellets of different colors and shapes, tropical nuts and fruits cut into various shapes and sizes, strips of raw fish, ground horse meat rolled into small logs, a variety of breakfast cereals, snack crackers, and pet kibble. Over the three years of the project, the second phase covered 140 days with 3,062 observations.

In the second phase there was very little interaction between jays at the novel food feeder. Most novel foods were larger in size than the regular basic diet offering, and as a result were usually picked up and taken to another perch before being eaten. There was little aggressive behavior displayed at the feeder, but after flying to a perch, occasionally one bird would attempt to steal the novel food from another one that had acquired it. Novel food was also occasionally cached (stored) and another jay would recover the food item, but the identity of the “pirate” stealing the cached food was seldom determined. The use of novel foods varied widely. Generally, smaller sizes of novel foods were preferred over larger sizes. Surprisingly, the color of novel foods did not seem to be a factor, but texture was. Novel foods that were slippery or sticky (dried fruits, banana slivers, marshmallows) were picked up but rejected more often than they were eaten. During both phases, the Blue Jays were observed capturing insects that had flown or crawled into the aviary. Several species of bees and moths were taken while flying. Caterpillars of unknown species were picked off the aviary mesh and larva of the Viburnum leaf beetle were gleaned from the leaves of an Arrowwood shrub.

Weather data was not recorded, but overall activity was greatly reduced during periods of rain as the birds tended to stay under shelter. Another factor that reduced activity was the presence of predators outside the aviary. Cooper’s Hawks were a particular concern of the Blue Jays. On nine occasions when a Cooper’s Hawk perched outside the aviary, the jays showed one of two behaviors. Most jays would remain quiet and perfectly still, while one or two would sound the familiar “jay, jay, jay” alarm call. Within seconds of the intruding hawk’s departure, activity would resume. Unfortunately, the identity of the vocalizing jay(s) could not be determined.

What did we learn? After all the data were compiled and analyzed, the results showed the following:
  • There was little size difference between the most dominant birds versus the most submissive birds based on weight and length of wing chord (wrist to longest flight feather). 
  • Adult birds were twice as likely to be dominant as younger birds. 
  • Dominant birds were slightly more likely to feed with other birds than feeding alone. 
  • The submissive birds were slightly more likely to feed alone than with other birds. 
  • There was no significant difference between the most dominant and least dominant in their total use of novel food, but dominant birds were nearly four times more likely to be the first to investigate a novel food.
As with most research projects, more questions were generated than were answered. One question that arose was if parasites influence the aggressiveness of Blue Jays at feeding stations? This premise assumes a bird carrying an internal parasite load needs more food to maintain itself and thus will be driven to seek out more food to compensate. During the study, several of the most dominant birds died, and their necropsies determined that they were carrying a high load of internal parasitic roundworms. Before being placed in the aviary, the Blue Jays had been quarantined and treated for parasites with the drug ivermectin. The medication may have been ineffective or the jays may have contracted the parasites from dormant eggs in the aviary soil, shed from birds previously housed there. There is a slight possibility that wild birds introduced parasite eggs by defecating through the mesh of the aviary’s roof. In either case the jays could have ingested the parasite eggs when food was cached or dropped to the ground and came in contact with the soil.

Another question came up was whether Blue Jay populations are affected by Gray Squirrel population levels. This question resulted from the number of hours it took to capture the Blue Jays before each year’s study period. Over the three years of the study, the number of hours it took to capture the Blue Jays increased exponentially each year as the number of Gray Squirrels near the capture sites increased. Blue Jays and Gray Squirrels do compete for some foods, including mast like acorns. It is possible that Gray Squirrels out-compete Blue Jays for important food resources. Other studies have also noted that during periods of higher squirrel densities, squirrels can be important nest predators on many bird species, including Blue Jays.

Clearly, there is no limit to the number of questions that can be pondered when we consider the complexity of the natural world. For my part, I want to thank the Science Center for allowing me to try to answer one small question that I had often wondered about. I also want to thank the terrific volunteers who gave so many hours to the project. Without their help, I could never have pursued the answers to my question.

September 28, 2015

Picking Cranberries

By Dave Erler, Senior Naturalist

Mountain cranberry. Courtesy Jonas Bergsten (wikimedia)
Cranberries are one of the strangest fruits to find and pick in the wild. Traditionally they are thought of as a Thanksgiving side dish or beverage option. Most people, think of them only as growing in commercial bogs harvested by flooding and floating the berries (think of the Ocean Spray cranberry juice commercials).

In the past three weeks I had the opportunity to pick wild cranberries in three very different locations. The first was at the top of Mt. Eisenhower. I had a day off and decided to do a hike and take advantage of the perfect weather. Once above tree line I found plenty of Mountain Cranberries, Vaccinium vitus-ideacea, (not to be confused with High Bush Cranberry, Viburnum tribolum, which is a popular landscape shrub). Like the bog cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, Mountain Cranberries are low creeping woody-like vines with small ¾to ½-inchevergreen leaves. Mountain Cranberries are about half the size of bog cranberries, but what they lack in size they make up for in flavor, tasting a lot like apples. Although it takes a bit of crawling around to pick them I found enough to fill my lunch bag On returning home I put some of them to good use making my all-time favorite dessert cranberry pie cake. See the recipe below.

The second location where I picked was closer to home. Along the road less than a mile from my house, cranberries grow in the ditch. These are bog cranberries and although the berries are larger, the plants are small and easily overlooked. While I only picked a handful some passers-by stopped upon seeing me stooped over and inquired if I was picking blueberries. They were surprised when I told them it was cranberries. They drove off with a puzzled look in their faces.

The most recent cranberry picking occurred while I was hiking with one of my daughters in the beach dunes on Cape Cod. After slogging through a mile of sand going up and down over the dunes, we came to a low spot and found a large patch of large just ripening cranberries. In about 20 minutes we picked a gallon. Right now they are in my refrigerator just waiting to be made into a few more cranberry pie cakes.

Cranberry Pie-cake

  • Line a 10" pie plate with your favorite pie crust.
  • Into this put 2 cups of cranberries, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup chopped nuts.
  • Make Batter: Cream 3/4 cup softened margarine and 1 cup sugar. Add 2 beaten eggs and 1 cup flour. 
  • Pour batter over cranberries and bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes. 

Recipe Credit: Cape Cod National Seashore 1980

September 7, 2015

Loons on Squam

By Maggie Gaiero, Program Intern

Many people are fascinated by these amazing animals swimming about on Squam Lakes. Sharing the waters with other birds like the Blue Heron, the Common Loon stands out with its recognizable black and white plumage. The Common Loon is one of five species of loon. Both Squam Lakes are blessed to have this bird call it home. Loons claim territory on the shorelines around the lakes, spending the majority of their lives in the air and swimming in the water. The Common Loon only comes ashore to lay eggs in early summer, but there is great danger to doing this. Eggs may become prey to animals like raccoons and turtles. Both parents stand guard on the nest and incubate the eggs as they try to prevent the loss of one of their precious chicks.

From the fall of 2004 to the spring of 2005, 44% of the loon population on Squam Lakes was lost. Out of the 16 pairs that flew south in 2004, only 9 pairs returned to lay eggs in 2005. More recently in 2014 there were 12 pairs of loons creating homes on the beautiful shores of Squam, and this summer 13 pairs were spotted. What caused such a dramatic drop from 2004 to 2005? Loons face many stresses in the wild even here at Squam. In 2001 with the reopening of the public boat launch, it was noted that human recreational use of the lake went up. Such acts can disturb nesting loons. Other stresses such as lead fishing tackle, extreme temperatures, and a high number of contaminants also have a negative impact on loons.

Here in New Hampshire the Common Loon is considered a threatened species. What exactly does this mean? A threatened species is characterized by a dramatic change in population – based on how many individuals are able to breed and the number of offspring that survive. The Loon is characterized as critical, meaning it is unable to sustain its population by itself in the wild in New Hampshire.

Squam Lakes Natural Science Center is concerned about this, so we have united with the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) to offer Loon Cruises twice a week each summer. These cruises take visitors around Squam Lake. Participants see some artificial loon nest platforms made and monitored by the LPC. They also hear about conservation ecology for the Common Loon. The boat trip lasts for 90-minutes. It is a great way to spend an afternoon while learning about one of New Hampshire’s most recognizable birds!

Learn more about our Loon Cruises. 

August 24, 2015


By Melissa Proulx, Marketing Intern

Have you ever heard of StoryWalk®? It is a project which supports literacy and a love of nature, and it spans across 48 states and 5 countries. According to the Kellogg Hubbard Library, “StoryWalk® is an innovative and delightful way for children — and adults! — to enjoy reading and the outdoors at the same time. Laminated pages from a children's book are attached to wooden stakes, which are installed along an outdoor path. As you stroll down the trail, you're directed to the next page in the story.” The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration the Kellogg Hubbard Library. Storywalk® is a registered service mark owned by Ms. Ferguson.

Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, Holderness Library, and Holderness Recreation Department have collaborated to bring StoryWalk® to Holderness. StoryWalk® can be found in the meadow along the bike path that leads to Kirkwood Gardens. It is a mowed trail with posts at various points. Each post has a couple of pages of the children’s book, Eliza and the Dragonfly, written by Susie Caldwell Rinehart and Illustrated by Anisa Claire Hovemann. I attended the opening of StoryWalk® on July 2. I was impressed and intrigued.

StoryWalk® provides a unique, educational experience for children. The story teaches about the life cycle of a dragonfly, and therefore offers some science education. It also uses the dragonfly’s growth as a metaphor for Eliza’s, allowing kids to learn about figurative language. It gives children a chance to practice their reading skills. The walking-between-pages setup allows children who may have a hard time sitting still to practice those skills as well, which makes it a special opportunity. Additionally, StoryWalk® helps kids stay active, both in body and mind, with suggested activities at each post. Examples include pretending to slide out of a dragonfly’s shell, and deciding what color they’d be if they were dragonflies.

I enjoyed StoryWalk® even as an adult. It was nice to be outside in the sun and get some vitamin D. As someone who likes to paint occasionally, I liked looking at the illustrations in Eliza and the Dragonfly. I appreciate the time it must have taken Hovemann to be as detailed as she was with what looks like watercolor paints, a medium that can be hard to work with.

I was fascinated by the live dragonfly nymphs, predacious diving beetle larva, and other small, aquatic creatures brought to the opening by Education Director Audrey Eisenhauer. There were some that I’d never seen or heard of, and it’s interesting to realize these creatures are common and live nearby. I’ll be the first to admit that I find insects a bit creepy, but I was still amazed to learn about the dragonfly life cycle. I would definitely recommend StoryWalk® to others, as it’s a free chance to learn and enjoy the outdoors.

StoryWalk® was generously sponsored by Meredith Village Savings Bank. The 2015 StoryWalk is closed but the 2016 story will open in July 2016. Check back for details.

August 17, 2015


By Jimmy Black, Program Intern

As an aspiring vet, I look at everything I do at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center as a way to help me in my veterinary development. Outreach programs are another great aspect of this internship that better prepare me for a career working with people and animals.

In outreach we do programs ranging from fifteen minutes away, giving talks to kids that can’t pay attention to anything other than how funny it is that the owl flapped its wings, to programs more than two hours away, with older kids who propose questions that would stump any naturalist. I love it when I come across someone who can stump me with a question about the animal I am presenting. It helps me further research the animal resulting in making a much better presentation the next time around. This relates to veterinary work because doctors are constantly coming across a disease or problem they have never seen before and may not know how to approach it. These types of questions promote further research resulting in a significantly more educated doctor in the long run.

Another part of outreach I love is the people skills I am learning. As a Resident Assistant at the University of New Hampshire, I have grown in my ability to talk with college students with a wide variety of personalities. Although there are times college students can act like kids, teaching and conversing with children is much different. Outreach has helped me think more about how I communicate information to people from different backgrounds. Again, relating it back to veterinary work, as a veterinarian I will become accustomed to an immense vocabulary of terms and medicines, but the general public will probably not know what these words mean. Veterinary work is only partially about helping animals, while a huge portion of the work is relaying the information to pet owners in a way that allows them to help their pets when you are not around.

Finally, the other aspect of outreach that I have gained the most from is the animal handling part of the job. During presentations, it is key for me to understand how an animal tends to act and how to display it in the best way for an audience to enjoy. There are times that the program animals get spooked or act out of character. It is my job to anticipate these occurrences and know how to deal with the situation without panicking. The naturalists and animal care employees here at the Science Center spend a lot of time working with the interns helping us to become comfortable around the different program animals. Obviously as a vet you need to be confidant and relaxed around animals because in a medical setting an animal is much more likely to be frightened and behave abnormally. Acquiring this experience working with a wide variety of animals is helping me grow significantly and putting me more on track to making my dream career a reality!

August 11, 2015

Up Close to Animals Presentations: What to expect

By Maggie Gaiero, Program Intern

I recently jumped into the wonderful world of Up Close to Animal talks here at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. It is a whirlwind of new information from the staff and library research, and then sharing it with the people who are so excited about sitting in our amphitheater to see our animal guests. When I began my first talk I was nervous, but as the presentation continued I fed off of the excitement of the crowd and it was easy to feel relaxed. Now to get up there in front of the fifty or more people who attend one of our Up Close to Animals talks is a piece of cake.

On bright sunny days people pile into our amphitheater seating right next to our Coyote Exhibit. Visitors are free to come and go as they please during a fifteen minute animal presentation. We have so many animals that could be viewed in an Up Close to Animals talk, ranging from things with wings like a Screech owl, to reptiles like our Ball python, even a variety of mammals such as skunks, opossums, and porcupines. Staff members take props such as animal skulls, wings, or even fur pelts for audience members to observe more closely after presentations. They might also share what we call Quinn Boards – or hand painted picture boards – to help display certain topics better. For a woodchuck (which could be seen in a presentation) we have some Quinn Boards that display their elaborate underground tunnel systems!

These talks allow visitors at the Science Center to have personal time with the knowledgeable education staff members that work here at the center as well as seeing an animal. Throughout a presentation people raise their hands with questions. After the presentation is over visitors can even go right up to the presenter and talk about the animal and ask questions they still might have. It really makes my day when after an Up Close to Animals talk a young child comes up and asks how to get my job because they are just so enthralled with the idea of working with live animals!

Up Close to Animals presentations are every hour from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every day during July and August. Presentations continue on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00 and 2:00 p.m. during September and October.

August 3, 2015

Kirkwood Gardens History

By Melissa Proulx, Marketing Intern

Recently, I interviewed Brenda Erler, Squam Lakes Science Center’s Gardens and Exhibits Assistant, about the history of Kirkwood Gardens. I learned a great deal about the gardens and Grace “Sunny” Kirkwood, the woman who designed them.

I remember putting a plant in soil and watching it grow when I was in middle school, after my grandmother gave me a grow-your-own-amaryllis kit for Christmas. Watching a magnificent red flower rise from dirt was a rewarding experience and a reminder of how fascinating the natural world can be. Nevertheless, I haven’t planted anything since then so when it comes to gardens, I am a novice. Sunny Kirkwood, on the other hand, was an accomplished green-thumbed artist, who became an internationally-known landscape designer. Kirkwood was from Boston, Massachusetts. While she didn’t always know she wanted to garden (she actually had a strong interest in becoming a gym teacher), she developed a passion after assisting a neighbor design a garden for the neighbor’s yard. As a result, she went to design school for landscaping. She rebuilt the kitchen garden at Mount Vernon and helped design several gardens in the Boston and Harvard areas of Massachusetts. When her husband, Samuel B. Kirkwood, was required to go to the Middle East to help with the formation of a medical plan, Kirkwood went with him. She did a variety of landscaping jobs while she was there, and even designed for such individuals as the Shah of Iran and several other Middle Eastern leaders and royals. She was in the strange position of being a female giving orders to men in the Middle East. She said she felt like a “museum piece.” While she eventually left the Middle East when her husband was targeted as a kidnap victim by Islamic terrorists, she continued to help with Middle Eastern landscaping and garden design. In fact, Brenda recalls visiting Sunny to question her about the design of Kirkwood Gardens, when the conversation was interrupted by a call from the Tehran Hilton asking Sunny where to place palm trees in the Hilton courtyard.

After leaving the Middle East, Sunny Kirkwood and her husband moved to North Sandwich, New Hampshire, where her father had taken her every summer during her childhood. The time spent in Sandwich helped to develop her lifelong love of plants and the outdoors. She was a member of the Board of Trustees at the Science Center from 1985 to 1991. Eventually, she was asked by Bessie Wood, another board member, to come up with ideas for using the abandoned parking lot off of Route 3. The site had been the Science Center’s original parking lot, and before that property of the Holderness Inn, which was then a gift shop called the Nature Store. Sunny was ill at the time and declined. Some residents of Holderness came up with some pretty unorthodox possibilities, such as a dachshund breeding facility. Executive Director Will Abbott asked Sarah James and Associates, a sustainability-focused consulting firm offering services in city/town planning and community development and William Hoffman, a landscape architect from Pittsfield, for suggestions. They came up with three possibilities, which were a butterfly conservatory, an amphitheater for outdoor programs, and a garden center. The amphitheater idea wasn’t practical for that spot because it was so close to the road and would have been noisy. The garden center was chosen. By then Kirkwood was well enough to take on the project.

Sunny’s control over the project, beginning in 1995, made it special for a few reasons. First, she had a wide variety of gardening experiences and was an incredibly good designer. Furthermore, Kirkwood used a lot of interesting plants. She had been in the Middle East for so long that she had to base her plant selection on what she remembered from her youth. As a result, the gardens ended up with plants that were not propagated as much as they were in previous decades, making them unique and beautiful selections. She also found plants that had been growing near the abandoned inn nearby and incorporated those into the gardens. Next, Sunny never liked to do the same thing twice and didn’t like anything to be uniform in her gardens because she wanted them to mimic nature. Thus, the pergola is situated at an angle with the rest of the garden. The fountain in the upper garden is atypical, making the garden a little bit whimsical, and much more natural than a formal garden would be. The fountain is a vertical pipe. It’s a controversial feature, which people seem to either love or hate. While some might not like it, it won’t be going away anytime soon because Sunny loved it and said it was exactly what she wanted. Finally the gardens were the last ones created by Sunny, so they stand as conclusion of her impressive legacy.

Sunny Kirkwood designed the gardens meticulously. Brenda explained that Sunny would specify exactly how many of each plant she wanted and where she wanted them planted. In order to get the plants for the upper garden, lists of what were needed were sent out to the full membership and most were donated. Sunny would be brought to the gardens by her nurse where she would sit and direct volunteers and staff. It was harder to get materials for the lower garden, because those working on the project had already asked everyone they knew for the plants used in the upper garden. The gardens’ stonework was put in by AmeriCorps volunteers. Swenson Granite also donated a lot of it and some of it was purchased by the Science Center. The pergola, steps, and benches were paid for individually by donors. George Carr, a Science Center trustee, wrote a grant to the New Hampshire Landscape Gardeners Association, a group that takes on one non-profit project each year. Brenda says they were thrilled to help. Hayden McLaughlin of Belknap Landscape Company took charge at that point and organized many other landscapers and nurseries around the state. They all came one day in 1996 and planted the majority of the plants in the lower garden.

From then on, it was up to Squam Lakes Natural Science Center to maintain Kirkwood Gardens. Brenda credits “the blood, sweat, and tears of a lot of volunteers” with making that possible from its creation through the present. She became the “point person” because she was very enthusiastic about it. As someone who loves to garden, Brenda felt Kirkwood Gardens was a great opportunity, and she continues to maintain them today. Brenda also says that, while some Holderness residents were unsure about the project at first, Kirkwood Gardens has become a source of pride for the town. New and returning visitors are both common to see in there, and one might even see someone painting or practicing tai chi in the morning. The gardens also serve as an educational area, with color-coded maps and cards that teach people about which plants attract which wild creatures. When the dedication ceremony took place, late in the summer of 1996, Sunny was in such poor health that she had to be brought to the ceremony by ambulance, but it was very important to her that she attend, and she did. That was when she expressed her enthusiastic approval of the fountain in the upper garden. Brenda showed me a picture of her at the dedication, with her daughter beside her, a week or two before she passed away after having a nice lobster dinner with her family. According to a speech by trustee Carol Thompson in 1997, Diana Horton, Sunny’s daughter, gave a funny speech about her mother at the event and Sunny loved it. The speech also describes Sunny as someone who was “everyone’s picture of an ideal grandmother” and was kind, patient, and had a great sense of humor.

I asked Brenda why she thinks it’s important for there to be free public gardens, and her response covered many different reasons. Public gardens give people ideas for what they can do in their gardens at home. Kirkwood Gardens specifically is great inspiration for anyone who wants to learn how to mix native and non-native plants to best attract birds and butterflies. Kirkwood Gardens also provides people with a place to escape the worries and cares of daily life and just relax. It’s a place where kids can spend some time outdoors. Its educational capacity makes it very important as well. Plus, as Brenda says, “Let’s face it; everybody needs more beauty in their life and it certainly delivers that.” Though she chuckles at herself as she says it, Brenda deems the gardens a “sanctuary for the soul” and I’m inclined to agree with her.