In 1971, Sue Ferguson and Sue Marshall brought 12 local women together to nurture an interest in the many uses of herbs. The Rochester Herb Society continues that heritage.
Now at 42 members, who are mostly retired, the Herb Society aims to inform the public and share with each other the knowledge of herbs and promote their culinary and medicinal benefits. The Herb Society is rooted in preserving natural beauty. Its program committee plans educational presentations by local herbalists and garden professionals to educate the membership and others to maintain nature’s balance.
The Herb Society has created and continues to tend gardens around the city, including the herbal and flower gardens on the Warner Castle property and the gardens on the Rochester Museum & Science Center campus. The Herb Society will mark its 50th anniversary with a celebration on Sept. 14 at RMSC’s Garden of Fragrance at 1 p.m. The group has been renovating and maintaining these gardens for the last 14 years.
“I feel privileged to be a member of the Rochester Herb Society for 25 years. Originally, I joined for socialization, but I have gained much more than incredible friendships and fun times. My appreciation, knowledge, and enjoyment of herbs and their infinite uses has grown with each program and activity,” says Jean Bolster. “If I could, I would say thank you to the founders for envisioning and founding such an enjoyable, successful, and lasting organization.”
When Marshall and Ferguson began the group, it was called the Flower City Herb Society. They met at the Castle Library on the first Tuesday of each month. In 1993, the society took on its current name with meetings at the Rochester Civic Garden Center. Currently, the group is on the lookout for a new venue for its meetings.
The Rochester Beacon posed a few questions to Bolster about the longevity of the organization and its future. Her answers are below.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What renovations were made to the gardens at RMSC? What kinds of plants grow there?
JEAN BOLSTER: The Herb Society began caring for the Garden of Fragrance at the RMSC in 2007. At that time, it was a secluded hideaway surrounded by boxwood hedges that formed a maze. The Garden of Fragrance has eight geometric herb beds laid out in the formal simplistic Tudor style arranged around a circular bed of roses. The herb beds are individually planted with: bitter and repellant herbs, monks’ herbs, bee herbs, medicinal and magic herbs, culinary herbs, salad herbs, pot herbs and edible flowers, and aromatic herbs.
The herb beds each had linear boards with the engraved names of the individual plants. Unfortunately, boxwood blight forced the removal of the surrounding maze and changed the overall feel of the garden. The boards deteriorated and were also removed. Dismayed by all of this, the Herb Society initiated an Eagle Scout Project to outline the nine herb beds with permanent pavers. Carter Halpin of BS Troop 167 completed this project with pavers donated by R.T. Masters Co. Inc. The Herb Society has engraved the name of each individual herb garden in a paver at the head of each bed and is working with the museum to complete new signage for the Garden of Fragrance including a map of the individual herb plants. The Herb Society has also rearranged and replaced many of the herb plants keeping within the original design of the garden. Another Eagle Scout project is in the planning to refurbish the garden benches in and near the Garden of Fragrance. We are also working with the museum to complete the leveling of the ground where the boxwood once stood.
We are commemorating our 50th anniversary by spearheading these renovations to the Garden of Fragrance. In completing this project our organization continues to meet its objective of supporting the local community while promoting interest in and the enjoyment of herbs and their uses.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What has kept the Herb Society going for half a century? What makes it work?
BOLSTER: I sincerely believe we have continued for 50 years because of the incredible and diverse membership we have and the foresight of our founders, Sue Ferguson and Sue Marshall. They recognized that there was enough interest in herbs to have classes on their use and culture and thus formed our club with the purpose of studying and making known all available information on herbs. Herbs have infinite uses and by incorporating these many uses into our programs we are able to capture the interests of many.
ROCHESTER BEACON: How do you engage the community to appreciate these gardens?
BOLSTER: Because of the location at the RMSC, the Garden of Fragrance is frequented by many visitors of all ages and has made it very easy to engage the community with very little effort on our part. Visitors often touch, smell and ask questions about the herbs. We are so happy to be a part of educating them about herbs.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What are some of the challenges you face as you look toward the future?
BOLSTER: Like other organizations, COVID has been a challenge for the Herb Society. When all other forms of socialization were unavailable to us, we could still enjoy “garden therapy” at the RMSC Garden of Fragrance. Those of us who like to garden could safely distance ourselves outdoors, feel productive and enjoy each other’s company. Fundraisers, indoor gatherings and programs have been stymied for now, but we look forward to a brighter future as we get a handle on the virus. A few years ago, we lost our home at the Rochester Civic Garden Center and while we have found temporary venues, we continue to search for a permanent suitable replacement that will suit our future needs.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.