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Published: Thursday, 7/8/2004

Waterville: Gardening is gift to community

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Margaret Hayes tiptoes through the flowers as her husband, George, waters the blooms in the bed in Pray Park in Waterville. Margaret Hayes tiptoes through the flowers as her husband, George, waters the blooms in the bed in Pray Park in Waterville.
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Margaret Hayes jokes that the only way she could slow her husband down is by getting a remote control for his pacemaker.

Mrs. Hayes is no slouch herself. She and her husband, George, spend hours tending gardens in public parks all over Waterville.

This summer, the couple planted flowers around the village for the 11th year. They maintain the flowers in Pray Park, in Conrad Park, in front of Wakeman Hall, and around signs welcoming drivers into the village.

"This is our gift to the community, and we do it gladly," said Mrs. Hayes, 76. "I don't know how much longer we can do it, but we want to for as long as we can."

Mr. Hayes, 79, has gardening in his blood. He was raised on 16 acres in Maumee, where his mother grew flowers that she sold to area stores.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, Mrs. Hayes grew up with little gardening experience. In her native England, girls were dissuaded from the messy hobby.

Even after she came to the United States with Mr. Hayes, who was a U.S. Army medic in Europe during World War II, it was years before she picked up a trowel and set to work. She started gardening about 25 years ago.

"I was a little concerned at first, because George was the gardener and I didn't want to take over," she said. "For George, it's second nature. I was a Johnny-come-lately."

Lucas County recognized the floral talents of both Mr. and Mrs. Hayes in 1999, when the couple received the Board of Commissioners Civic Beautification award. The year before, Mr. Hayes was named Waterville's Hometown Hero for his years of volunteer gardening for the village.

"People send us thank-you cards from Napoleon and Grand Rapids and all over," Mr. Hayes said. "A lot of people stop by to say thanks when we're out in the parks, and when truck drivers see us out there, they honk their horns."

Mr. and Mrs. Hayes each spent about 22 hours planting flowers around Waterville at the beginning of the summer. In all, they put in more than 1,800 flowering plants. They water the flowers and yank out any intruding weeds throughout the season.

Even when the parks are covered in snow, they keep busy planning next year's gardens. Mrs. Hayes said they sit down in January and start designing flower arrangements for the spring.

"It's awesome. They make so many spots in the village that would otherwise just be grass much more colorful," village administrator Jay Bahr said. "They really get down with their hands in the dirt and do a great job."

Mr. and Mrs. Hayes are not the only green-thumbed civic volunteers around town. The Countryside Garden Club, which serves the Anthony Wayne area, has members who plant and care for gardens in public spaces.

For several years, the club has maintained flowers in downtown Waterville at the intersection of U.S. 24 and Mechanic Street and around signs along the Anthony Wayne Trail. The club recently landscaped the new library in Whitehouse.

"We do quite a bit of volunteering," club member Sheri Luedtke said. "We're trying to promote beautification of the area."

To encourage other gardeners, the club gives Garden of the Month awards each summer. Mr. and Mrs. Hayes have received the award twice for the large garden at their house.

In the backyard of their River Road home, trees and blossoms surround a waterfall and a fountain that Mr. Hayes constructed.

"We feel we've made a little oasis for ourselves here," Mrs. Hayes said. "Gardening is a good hobby we can enjoy together."



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