MIDDLEBURY — The next time you walk past the Sheldon Museum, take a minute to look at the garden.
At the borders of the house run colorful beds that illuminate the brick walls, and flowers stand out against the back fence. It is difficult to imagine the house without the flower beds that ornament it.
Before 1980, however, the grounds were bare, with little landscaping. In the 1950s, members of the Middlebury Garden Club had decided that the yard needed some kind of garden, and they had put in a bed for memorial plants to commemorate deceased members of the club. But this was only one area — the rest was still sparsely planted, the bushes wild and overgrown.
Finally, in 1980, several members of the club took it upon themselves to tidy up the area and install several larger beds near the museum’s side entrance. Since that summer, the club has kept a rotating cast of volunteers on hand to care for the garden beds.
But the yard has not stayed the same since the club took over.
“I wish we still had the stone walls,” said Jane Burton, who, along with Esther Howlett, is in charge of the museum gardens. “The whole thing used to be enclosed with a beautiful flat stone wall, all the way around.”
And though the yard has changed, it still contains history. Howlett pointed out a stone trough in the middle of the yard, explaining that it was the original watering trough from the town green.
“When the horses got to town, they would get a drink there,” she said.
Now the trough sits in the center of the grassy yard, just below the herb garden bed.
Burton explained that the herb garden was also designed to bring some historical flavor to the grounds.
“There was an original herb garden back by what was the kitchen door,” she said.
The bed, which runs along the path to the side entrance, contains plants that would have been in a kitchen garden during Henry Sheldon’s lifetime. Among the herbs in the garden are fennel, thyme, sage, oregano, mint and basil.
Burton coordinates volunteers to help with the garden, but she said it requires relatively little time each week — even this year, when weeds are running rampant. It takes around five hours a week to do the weeding and watering, and occasionally Howlett and Burton come in to do additional tasks.
“We’re lucky to have them here,” said Mary Manley, assistant director at the museum.
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