Woman oversees four decades of growth in gardening of herbs

Original members of the Western Reserve Village Foundation included, front row, from left, JoHanne Edel, Kris Yelton, the late Diane Playforth, and Aldo Balestra. Back row, from left, are fair Director Gilbert “Gibby” James, Carrie Burkey, the late Bill Kish, and the late Fair Director Bob Rose

GREENFORD — This year, the Holborn Herb Growers Guild is celebrating 40 years of bringing the joy of herb gardening to the area.

It all started with founding member Carrie Burkey, 84, a 1955 Boardman High School graduate who went on to attend Ohio University for her bachelor’s degree in teaching. After graduating in 1959, she moved to Connecticut and while there, Burkey had the opportunity to visit Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry.

The farm was owned and operated by Adelma G. Simmons, a leading figure in herbal gardening and herbal lore and history.

“I was admiring all her plants, was rubbing the leaves, and smelling the herbs one could buy in the store,” Burkey said. “I got interested in herbs, and when I moved back to Ohio, I started growing them.”

She wasn’t alone in her endeavor. She said a dear friend, the late Carolyn Martindale, who served as director of the journalism department at Youngstown State University, was also deeply interested in growing herbs.

It was the late 1970s and between Burkey and Martindale, interest was mounting on growing herbs in a garden. Burkey said several local garden clubs called and asked the two women to come and speak.

“One day I got a call from Canfield schools, asking me to teach a course on herbs as part of their adult education classes,” Burkey said.

She agreed to teach the class and through it, became “best buddies” with Kris Yelton. In 1982, Burkey held a meeting at her Greenford home, and Yelton and 11 other women attended. They all wanted to be involved more in growing herbs and understanding what they were good for.

“At that first meeting, we discussed how we could introduce herbs to the people,” she said. “We came up with the idea to have a garden.”

Good idea, but where could it go? Burkey had a great idea to put the garden at the Pioneer Village on the Canfield Fairgrounds. She said she approached then-Fairgrounds secretary Grace Williams, who set up a meeting with fairground directors Gilbert “Gibby” James and Bob Rose.

“Grace joined me, and together we presented the idea,” Burkey said.

She said the fair directors allowed the herb growers to plant gardens around the Country Store, the Law Office and the Doctor’s Office. After that first year, the women were given free rein to place gardens in the Village.

The original group of women were known as the Holborn Herb Growers Guild. Burkey said they all wanted a name that would be meaningful and that led her to a book written by Simmons that concerned a very fashionable area of London, England, named Holborn. A fellow by the name of John Gerard lives there and is famous for writing “Generall Historie of Plantes” in 1597. His book became the most widely circulated book on herbs that had been assembled. The herb pioneer practiced what he preached and grew herb gardens where each herb was labeled and studied.

“His were probably the first public herb gardens,” Burkey said. “The founders of our Guild planned public herb gardens too, so we felt a connection to Holborn.”

In the early years of the newly formed Guild, the gardens at the Pioneer Village were receiving good reviews from fairgoers. The Village grounds were looking great, but the old historic buildings that were saved and located to the fairgrounds were showing their age. At the time, the fairgrounds didn’t have the funds to maintain the buildings, but all that would soon change.

Burkey realized the fairgrounds was in essence a government entity that could not go out and solicit funds or host fundraisers. A foundation could, and in 1993, Burkey helped form the Western Reserve Village Foundation, which could seek donations and host fundraisers. The proceeds could then be used to maintain the historic buildings in the village that evolved from the Pioneer Village to the present-day Western Reserve Village.

Another interesting item that Burkey was able to begin was the blind herb garden. She said that garden was established through the assistance of Mike Bosela from the local Society of the Blind. He assisted in building a plant table to hold pots, then provided the Braille signs and the arrows that a blind person would look for that served as a guide to locate the signs. The table was built at wheelchair height and blind fairgoers can rub the leaves of the herbs and learn about them.

Today, Burkey still works hard to keep the dream alive. The Guild has constructed gardens that go with the themes of the buildings they surround. For example, the church gardens are herbs spoke of in the Bible, the Library has a Shakespeare garden, and the Doctor’s Office garden contains medicinal herbs.

At fair time, many of the gardens contain flowering plants since a lot of the herbs do not make for beautiful gardens in late August. The flowers do make the Village a peaceful place to be and the WRV Foundation members patrol it to keep it clean.

Looking back over the years, Burkey said it has been a lot of work and an effort that has taken the dream to new heights.

On May 21, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Holborn Herb Growers Guild will host its annual plant sale in the building near the pumpkin barn at the fairgrounds. The sale features herbs and perennials, succulents and fairy garden plants as well as the featured “Twice Loved Perennials” nurtured by Guild members. Also available are gardening, herb and cook books. Guild members also will be there to answer questions.

“We started the plant sale because no one was carrying herbs around this area,” Burkey said. “Our first sale was held under the grandstand around 1984.”

To suggest a Saturday profile, contact Features Editor Burton Cole at bcole@tribtoday.com or Metro Editor Marly Reichert at mreichert@tribtoday.com.



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