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Median value; Shrewsbury Street a feast for the eyes.

Byline: Nancy Sheehan

They're not content merely to have fine restaurants up and down the broad thoroughfare on Shrewsbury Street. They also like their median strip well done.

Painstakingly tended flower beds adorn the mile-long median from just beyond Washington Square almost to Belmont Street. They are in full bloom right now. The plantings, in their color scheme and complexity, far surpass the ubiquitous tracts of stout yellow day lilies municipalities often plant and then, because of budget constraints, leave to fry in the mid-summer sun.

Instead of waiting for the city to score a windfall to splurge on plantings, the Shrewsbury Street Merchants Association dug in and took median matters into their own hands. They hired a private landscaper to install beds and maintain them. There are nine beds now, and plans call for a new one each year until there are a dozen of them stretching all the way down the center of the street, which serves as the city's eastern gateway.

After asking around and getting a few quotes, the merchant group hired Hillary Landscape Services of Hubbardston, formerly of Worcester, to do the work. Thomas Simone, president of the landscaping company, designed the beds around perennials, including ornamental grasses, Shasta daisies, coneflowers and day lilies in shades of red, maroon and gold. Annuals such as blue salvia and rows of bright magenta petunias add pops of season-long color and fill in a buffer zone Simone has left around the perennials.

"I like to have some color on the edges and also there's a little bit of a plan as far as the wintertime goes," he said. "We don't have the perennials planted right on the edge, so when they salt and sand the roads it doesn't get into them."

Each week, Simone and his crew perform maintenance on the gardens, plucking weeds, deadheading hundreds of daisies, and picking up trash thrown by passers-by oblivious to the beauty they are putting asunder.

The landscape crew's efforts do not go unnoticed, however.

"We get a lot of positive comments from the shop owners and the merchants and also people who drive by," Simone said. "People will shout out `Nice job' or `Looks great.' It's nice to hear those things."

The idea for the street-spanning gardens started around the same time as the city's 2001 fiscal crisis, which threatened to close public swimming pools that summer, including one in Cristoforo Colombo Park on Shrewsbury Street. Paul Barber of the merchants association, who is also co-owner of the Flying Rhino Cafe at 278 Shrewsbury St., says that prompted him to come up with the idea of a fundraising festival at which the many Shrewsbury restaurants could band together to offer samples of their specialties. The Taste of Shrewsbury Street, now a key event in the city each spring, was born. That first festival raised $10,000 to open the Cristoforo Colombo pool and, that task completed, thoughts turned to ways to brand the street as "Restaurant Row" and give it a more upscale appearance. There had been talk about putting in gardens and now, with the success of that first festival, there was a possible funding source.

Another important element also came into focus not long after. Funding for a sprinkler system on the median had been offered by the Rotary Club. It was a critical element in the median gardens concept after trees planted along the median strip by the city died for lack of watering. The result was a long, heartbreaking row of lifeless, leafless trees, and the Merchants Association didn't want to see anything like that happen again.

But things started looking up after the Rotary Club came up with $75,000 for sprinklers and now, a budding annual festival looked like it might be able to finance the flowers. "The first Taste of Shrewsbury Street was to fund the pool but we knew this deal was coming down around the same time, so we started thinking `Maybe we can roll it right into that and use that to support the gardens on the street,'" Barber said.

After permits were in place and details worked out, the first gardens, five of them, were installed in 2007. The master plan calls for an additional one each year, except one year when 3,000 daffodil bulbs were planted instead. "We wanted to do that for the spring when everyone's like, `Yeah, finally a sign of life,'" Barber said.

The daffodils, which naturally tend to spread, now number about 4,000, Simone said. That means that after the blooms fade, he and his crew have to hand tie 4,000 tufts of spiky daffodil leaves into little knots. The season-transitioning procedure allows the leaves to keep feeding the bulb for next year's flowers while making room to plant annuals in between. "It actually goes pretty fast," Simone said, of the yearly springtime task. It's all part of what goes into making Shrewsbury Street - and the city - a prettier place.

"The merchants really, to me, have done such a good service to the city to put the money and the effort and the enthusiasm into the gardens," Simone said. "They're very excited about what they do here."

The work also is, in part, a labor of love for Simone, whose father grew up on Gage Street, just off Shrewsbury Street. "As I started the job, I got to meet so many people. They would come out of the stores or the restaurants and a lot of them were named Simone. I met four other Tom Simones, none of them related," he said. "And my father moved here from Italy, so it has a lot of significance for me. There's just a lot of good feeling for having been involved with the development of the beds and the flowers on Shrewsbury Street."

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Thomas Simone, owner of Hillary Landscape Services, deadheads Shasta daisies in the median flower beds on Shrewsbury Street last week. (2) Jack Hendra of Oakham, top photo, rakes up the dead blossoms left by John-Michael Nalette of Winchendon, above. (3) Thomas Simone, owner of Hillary Landscape Services, says he gets positive feedback about the Shrewsbury Street flower beds from passers-by

PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/PAUL KAPTEYN
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 22, 2012
Words:1041
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