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.
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.