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By SARA K. TAYLORStaff writer

The Star Memorial Garden in La Plata might not be very big, but that’s the point.

The pocket garden honoring the people of the town who rebuilt following the tornado on April 28, 2002, is a small plot behind the original firehouse.

It also honors those who lost their lives in the twister 10 years ago and the victims of the Nov. 9, 1926, tornado that swept through town on a balmy Tuesday, killing several schoolchildren.

The garden was created as a small, quiet space where townsfolk can come and sit, maybe reflect, said Mary Beth Chandler, a longtime town resident and president of the La Plata Garden Club, which built the garden five years ago with the help of donors, businesses and organizations.

Before the garden was created, the club had to form and it was born out of the rubble.

“It began with the water tower coming down,” Chandler recalled. “People wanted to come together to help the town of La Plata.”

Beside the town being in ruins, neighborhoods like Quailwood and Clark’s Run lost several trees and erosion was a becoming a problem.

“People started asking questions,” about restoring the landscape, said Sherie Zimmer, a garden club member and co-chairwoman of the Star Memorial Garden. “The garden club could help homeowners solve some of the issues.”

The first meeting, held in the original firehouse some garden club members remember as teenagers stopping by to visit boyfriends who were volunteering; Chandler remembers her brother, now 70, as a 16-year-old volunteer attracted about 20 people.

Because the club meets in the evening and focuses mostly on landscaping and horticulture, the club appeals to men and those who work during the day, Chandler said.

“The garden club membership took off,” she said. “It just soared.”

The club is hoping to use the original firehouse and Star Memorial Garden to offer youth education programs. The club has outgrown the space and meets at the new firehouse on Washington Avenue.

Making a garden glow

The Star Memorial Garden was a project that came together with the help of several businesses and organizations.

The original plan was designed by Steuart Bowling, who drew up a sketch of a star-shaped garden with a water feature bubbling away in the center. Chandler still has the drawing.

“It was really grand,” she said.

Scaling it back a bit, the club starting planning the design and construction of the garden in 2004.

The bricks in the garden, laid in the form of the path of the 2002 tornado, came from the old town hall.

Chandler and Zimmer remember getting the call to come collect the bricks and some boxwood shrubs.

It was in February and extremely cold, Zimmer recalled.

Then, there was a water and sewage problem at the firehouse which houses a restored 1930-era Seagrave pumper truck that the department used in the early days.

It took four or five months to repair the water and sewage issue and the bricks stayed stacked for about two years and the boxwoods died.

And garden club members, who originally were going to design and do all the work themselves, started to reach out to the community.

The club sent out letters to 23 businesses in the town. That was 43 cents per letter to post and nearly $70,000 came in toward the garden project.

With the town’s help, “There was an outpouring of money and materials,” Chandler said.

Facchina Construction donated materials and poured the slab, the Rotary Club of Charles County La Plata gave the benches, Longwood Gardens helped with the plants and a number of other businesses and groups pitched in.

Zimmer remembered briefing the town council on the project and after completing her presentation being handed a check from a developer also at the meeting.

“It’s just a small pocket garden,” Chandler said. “But it took on a life of its own.”

A pocket garden popular in cities is usually walled in on three sides, an oasis tucked away behind a gate.

The La Plata garden is gated and open to the public.

While the town takes care of mulching and mowing, the club members follow a maintenance schedule.

The garden features six Natchez crape myrtle trees, a sweetbay magnolia tree, chokecherry trees, holly shrubs, heather, an herb garden and “a thousand other things we’ve put in,” Zimmer said.

That was the hardest thing, Chandler said, choosing plants.

“But it was so much fun,” Zimmer added.

It is designed to be beautiful no matter the season, Chandler said, adding that the garden has an effect on people who drop by.

“It makes you reminisce, tell stories,” she said.

During the open house on April 28 during Celebrate La Plata, club members hope to hear more stories and introduce visitors to the spot.

To learn more

The La Plata Garden Club will hold an open house 11 a.m.-noon April 28 during Celebrate La Plata. The garden is at the town’s original firehouse, 3 Firehouse St. The La Plata Garden Club will meet 7 p.m. April 29 at the La Plata Volunteer Fire Department, 911 Washington Ave. George Timko, a deer biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, will talk about minimizing deer damage to gardens and landscapes. Go to