Center Park - a peaceful garden in the center of Carlisle

by Cecile Sandwen

Center Park benches peacefully await visitors. (Photo by Marjorie Johnson)

Center Park, dedicated on Old Home Day 2007, is coming up on its fifth year. This beautiful park on Lowell Street across from the cemetery next to the police station has become a welcome retreat for everyone from Ferns customers carrying sandwiches, to readers, to local business people seeking a place to meet, to bikers taking a rest, to kids getting together after school.

But Center Park is not just a park, it’s a well-planned garden. Interesting plantings produce color from April through October. Carlisle garden enthusiasts looking for inspiration can find it without leaving town—just stop by Center Park on a beautiful spring day.

On just such a day, April 5, I walked the garden with Sabrina Perry, the driving force behind the development of Center Park. Perry lives in Lincoln now, but was a Carlisle resident for 40 years. Her husband Russ, now deceased, owned an insurance business in the Center. With us was Julie Turner of Bedford, who designed the park’s website.

Perry explained that landscape garden designer Maria von Brincken, APLD, developed the design for the gardens, with Lowell Robinson, landscape architect, selecting the perimeter plantings. Everything was done with an eye toward a natural look that would be low maintenance, organic, and deer-resistant.

Hellebore in bloom in Center Park (Photo by Marjorie Johnson)

As we walked from the parking area, bright yellow Peeping Tom daffodils greeted us from a bed of blue-flowering vinca. Even this early in the season, interesting perennials were emerging. Hellebores (Lenten or Christmas Roses) were in full bloom, displaying flowers of white, mauve, and chartreuse, and the dark leaves of coral bells were just visible. Soon bleeding heart, lilac, baptisia and candytuft will add blooms of pink, blue, and white. As the season progresses, roses, astilbe, and long-blooming Rozanne geraniums will keep the color coming, A full list of plantings with pictures is on the website

We headed for a seating area, Perry stopping to clean up a Sedum Autumn Joy and commenting, “That’s my favorite plant. It doesn’t ask for anything and it’s so gorgeous.” We sat on a bench dedicated to the memory of Jessica H. Valentine (other benches contain the names of Jill Reichenbach, H. Russell Perry, Jr., and Caryl Peabody Lovejoy).

Daffodils and vinca cover the ground. (Photo by Priscilla Stevens)

Perry noted that a number of events have been held at Center Park over the past five years. In 2008, Isabel Stewart Gardner (played by Jessica Piaia) visited the park and pronounced it part of the Emerald Necklace. In 2010, candidate for the U.S. Senate Jon Golnick held a rally. Last August Center Park saw its first wedding, a spur of the moment event featuring a bride and groom who had just moved to Carlisle.

Many donors contributed to raising the $70,000 that funded the birth of Center Park. A full list is on the website. “It took many gifts both big and small to create the park and sustain it through its first five years,” says Perry. Local businesses offered plants and services, including Blanchette Gardens, Gerard’s Mahoney Garden Centers, Phillippo Gardens/Rainbow Mums and Seawright Gardens. The Carlisle Garden Club gave a grant for additional planting. “This was not an instant garden, rather each year has seen the addition of carefully selected plants for color, seasonal interest, and size when fully grown,” says Perry.

Fundraising for the park is on-going. A five year plan is coming to a close, but there remains a need for new shrubs to provide enclosure and density. The town’s DPW receives Perry’s thanks for keeping costs down by providing the stone edging and for on-going mowing, raking, and maintenance. “The basics are taken care of. It’s an outstanding contribution,” she says.

But services such as planting, pruning, lawn seeding and managing the irrigation system require specialists. In December a mailing to the community received “a nice response,” says Perry. She notes that the Friends of Center Park will be developing a next phase business plan and budget. Membership is open to anyone willing to make a contribution to the park.

Recalling the unsightly parking lot at this location six years ago, Perry says, “It’s been great fun. I had no idea it would be this beautiful.” Early concerns by neighbors have disappeared. In fact, a next door neighbor has lent electricity for events and recently stopped by to thank Sabrina for making such a beautiful park. Adds Turner, “The progress made in five years—it’s a staggering achievement.”

As we walked to our cars, I saw that not only adults can enjoy the park. Toddlers, a boy and younger girl, entered with their mom. The boy shrieked in delight—“that’s a BIG rock!” and ran to climb on it, his little sister struggling to keep up. The happy sounds of their play followed us as we left Center Park.

Note: Center Park will celebrate its fifth anniversary on June 30 at Old Home Day with a Dixieland band (The Ancient

Mariners), Vicki Lee’s cake, and Kimballs ice cream. Everyone is invited. The festivities begin at 2:00 p. m.

A chat with the Park’s designer

Maria von Brincken, landscape designer, wants Center Park to be a magnet. “People going by are delighted by the island and are drawn in to explore. We’re trying to create a place where people gather.” Once inside this peaceful enclave, a visitor finds every sense engaged.

The natural plantings include many natives. Von Brincken points to winterberry, vibernum, inkberry, and shadbush as examples of native shrubs that display beautiful flowers and berries. As natives, they also feed local birds, who add their songs to the sensory experience.

Smell contributes to the ambiance, with lilac, roses, peonies, and clethra each adding their fragrance, says von Brincken. “Leaves reflect the movement of the wind. Dappled shade plays with light.” She adds that leaves, flowers and stone materials introduce varied colors, textures, shapes, and forms.

“When someone approaches the park, I want it to invite from a distance,” she says. “It should be a journey of welcome and discovery, a restorative experience. You leave calmer as you enter your day. You leave with something you didn’t have before. “       ∆