While out with her dog, “Persi,” Pam Holen decided to stroll through the grounds of the Flavel House Museum. The master gardener, restless from months of cabin fever during the coronavirus pandemic, became overwhelmed with a vision for polishing one of the jewels of Astoria.
Holen’s newly formed Flavel House Garden Society will begin a revitalization project this week to bring the gardens back to their former beauty during the Victorian era. She hopes the project can attract a sustainable team dedicated to seeing out what could be a grueling endeavor.
“There’s a lot of balls in the air when you do a project like this,” Holen said. “This is not going to be the perfect Victorian garden next summer. It’s going to take time, that’s why we need sustainability.”
The garden society operates under the wing of the Clatsop County Historical Society, the nonrofit dedicated to preserving the region’s history.
With gardens that existed since the 1880s, extensive research is necessary to identify what types of plants may flourish year-round and bloom at different times so the grounds can attract seasonal visitors. Many of the trees planted in the garden’s early days have grown significantly, Holen said, which means different levels of sunlight present challenges for what can and cannot be planted.
For these reasons, Holen describes it as an educational project. In addition to visitors learning about the history of the Flavels, the famous maritime family, they could also learn about biodiversity and the kinds of gardens typical of the Victorian era.
McAndrew Burns, the executive director of the historical society, estimates the improvement could help the Flavel House draw as many as 75,000 visitors a year, almost double what they typically see.
Before the vision can be fully realized, however, the garden society needs as many hands on deck as possible.
“Stage one is getting people to show interest, getting them out here and just cleaning out the weeds,” Holen said. “Once you get the weeds out and get some mulching down and then you can stand back and think, ‘Now what do we need to do?’”
The revitalization will begin with weed removal and mulching before the winter. Work will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday evenings, and then from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday mornings. Placement of new plants and composting could happen by next spring.
“We’re really thankful for anyone coming or having the interest. We’re not looking for a lifetime commitment,” Burns said. “But if you’ve got a couple hours and you want to come pull weeds and lay some mulch, we’ll have some snacks and refreshments.”
Restoring the Flavel House gardens could provide Astorians with more than just increased tourism and a taste of horticultural education, organizers say. It could give people a deeper sense of pride after a difficult period.
“It wouldn’t belong to you. It wouldn’t belong to me. It would belong to our community,” Holen said.
The success of past projects to rejuvenate the Flavel House, such as a cleanup that took place ahead of the museum’s inclusion in a recent horror film, gives Burns hope for the gardens.
“People take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “Whenever it needs a little help, like painting or now, with the grounds, I think the community comes together and realizes it’s one of the most important parts of what people in Astoria see.”