Business Profile: Grove Gardens, Grove St., Worcester, MA

My grandmothr's sister, Helen Bulak

(Digital Images, Photographs Privately Held by Cynthia Shenette; Photographs and Text Copyright (c) 2016 Cynthia Shenette.) My grandparents, Adolf Szerejko and Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko, immigrated to the United States from Poland in the early part of the 20th century, and from the early 1900s until 1940 they lived in the predominantly Polish Vernon Hill section of the city.

My grandparents were fantastic gardeners and gardened extensively in the small backyard of their three-decker on Fairfax Rd.  You can see their garden here.  While they loved their home on Fairfax Rd. they dreamt of living someplace where they could expand their garden, possibly into a business they would both enjoy after my grandfather retired from his job as a machinist at Leland-Gifford.

Peach tree blossoms, spring 1949

In 1940 my grandparents purchased a home on Grove St. in Worcester.  It's hard to imagine today, but in 1940 Grove St. was a narrower, tree-lined thoroughfare on the rural outskirts of the city.  The house was situated on four acres of land adjacent to the small pond on the opposite side of the road to Indian Lake. The land and the house were previously owned by descendants of the Horace Thayer family, and in 1940 Horace's son Charles still owned and operated the dairy farm next door..  

My grandmother, Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko, spring 1949?

My grandparents' vision was long-range.  The plan was to build and work their business over time, so it would be a viable business once my grandfather retired at age 65.  They planted apple trees and cherry trees and peach trees.  In the spring there were lilacs and forsythia bushes and pussy willows. In the summer there were zinnias and peonies and gladiolas.  In the fall there were chrysanthemums. They grew their own vegetables and my grandmother canned the produce.  They sold flowers to friends, neighbors, and anyone else who wanted flowers.  According to the Worcester city directories, Grove Gardens was listed in the city directories from 1941 to 1959 in the individual listings and sometimes under florists in the business section of the directory.

Auntie Helen Bulak, spring 1949

It's kind of amazing when you look at the color in these photos. They were taken in the 1949 and 1950.  I scanned Kodachrome slides and did a wee bit of retouching, but the color is essentially in the original condition.  Compared to other types of film there's nothing like the staying power of Kodachrome.  I also have some slides of Grove Gardens in Anscochrome, but they can't compare in brilliance and color clarity to the Kodachrome.

My grandfather, Adolf Szerejko, spring 1949

My grandparents did the work themselves with occasional help from their kids--son Robert, daughter (and my mom) Christine, and daughter Helene.  Once my parents were married and visiting from where they lived when my dad was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island, my dad would help my grandfather with some of the work around the property.  When my dad retired after 20 plus years in the military he decided to go to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture and eventually became a well regarded Worcester area landscaper.  I can't help but believe a large part of that was due to his time helping out around Grove Gardens.

My grandmother was incredibly proud of her rock garden which was behind the fireplace in the photo above.  She use to tell me about when she raised tiny alpine flowers that she ordered specially through the mail. When I was a kid much of the rock garden was past it's prime and overgrown, but I still loved picking the red, yellow, and pink tulips and the purple grape hyacinth and bright blue glory of the snow and scilla.  I also use to love sitting in the crook of the apple tree to the right reading a book.

Spring 1949

I love the photo above.  It's interesting to see the construction of the stone wall which created kind of a sunken garden appearance with the rock garden in back.

My grandmother specialized in perennials and knew the Latin name for every plant.  She was something of a plant expert and even the garden columnist from the local paper would occasionally call to ask for information regarding a plant she was knowledgeable about when he needed information for his column.

September 1949

My grandmother use to joke that people referred to her as "the perennial lady" and my grandfather as the "glad man."  My grandfather use to raise and sell gladiolas.  The photo below is one of my favorite photos of my grandparents.

My grandparents, Adolf Szerejko and Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko and their gladiolas, August 1950

Unfortunately, their dream retirement business was not to be.  My grandfather died unexpectedly four months before his 65th birthday.  After he died my grandmother couldn't maintain the property by herself, so she eventually sold three of the four acres and most of the plants.

By the time I remember the property what was once the main part of the garden was an overgrown field. The lilacs were still there.  So were the cherry trees and a poplar tree and the apple trees. Peonies popped up in the field grass where carefully tended rows once lined the garden.  The rock garden remained, but wasn't tended with the same careful precision. We had a large veggie garden on our property, but by the time I remember my grandmother her canning days were over.  She never lost the gardening bug even into her 80s. She was the person who instilled a love of gardening in me.

When I cleaned out my mother's house I found the sign for Grove Gardens in the basement. It ended up in a dumpster, though I do have my grandparents' log books and some letterhead stationary and business cards.  And the photos.  The log books are interesting, because they document the expenditures and income for the business from March 1941 through December 1972.  I feel fortunate to have my  photos, and a local historic preservation society is working on a project researching lost gardens of Worcester, and I plan to contribute copies of my photos and images of materials for their files.  

If you drive by today our old house it's still there, though it doesn't look anything like it use to look. The garden is long gone, and there is a new house on the back property.  No one would ever know that Grove Gardens once existed.  I figure I'm honoring my grandparents and the business they loved so much by writing about them and their garden.  They loved their garden and they loved each other, so I kind of feel that by writing this post some 76 year after they started I'm  keeping the dream alive.

Other Posts You Might Like:

Flower Girls - Wordless Wednessday
Wordless Wednesday: Fuller Rose Garden, Circa 1966
My Garden 2012 - Wordless Wednesday
Celebrating Spring! - Wordless Wednesday