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October 8, 2013 > Pat KiteÕs Garden Column: EvaÕs Shinn garden

Pat KiteÕs Garden Column: EvaÕs Shinn garden

By Pat Kite

The first time Denise saw Eva Ricciarelli, the 71-year-old was pushing a flowerpot-laden broken wheelbarrow across Shinn Park lawn. ÒWhen Eva wanted to do something, she just did it, ÒDenise LePielbet emphasizes. FremontÕs Shinn Park, now an exquisite panorama of historic flowers and ancient trees, was once neglected acreage with a discombobulated centrist cottage. That was before Indiana-born Eva and spouse Rod made a WW II plane restoration trip to England.

As a child, EvaÕs mother always gave her the garden Òchores.Ó But to Eva, they were never chores, they were labors of love. So, of course, in England, Eva and Rod visited as many beautiful gardens as they could. Old-fashioned heirloom flowers held a special fascination. She loved them for their shapes and scents, often so different than current multi-hybridized varieties.

Over the years, Eva volunteered at Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont and Filoli Gardens in San Jose; she got a Master Gardener degree. But her horizon was now larger. Eva wanted to start a garden club that would beautify FremontÕs historical parks. Initially she put ads in area newspapers and found ample interest. So by 1994, Eva approached the City of Fremont with her project. The City let her tend the derelict Niles Rose Garden for starters. With volunteers, it blossomed.

She started a vegetable garden, giving the proceeds to FremontÕs soup kitchens, and created a Butterfly garden. Then the City let her begin refurbishing Shinn Historical Park. So began ÒFriends of Heirloom FlowersÓ [FHF]. Volunteers started with the old Shinn Cottage. ÒThere was nothing in it,Ó Denise recalls. So Eva had a decorating party: couches, chairs and tablesÉ it is now the FHF clubhouse. The cottage front soon sparkled with a cutting garden similar to the original one at the long-ago Shinn family home.

ÒEva started the FHF garden club without any money,Ó Denise recalls. ÒPlants were donated. We had White Elephant sales. We sold our plants at the Niles Wildflower festival. Eva was just a Ôcan doÕ person. If there was a problem, she found a way around it. She always saw the sunny side of day, even if it was raining.Ó

Some of the original FHF members still come to plant, prune, weed every Tuesday; among them Trudy Del Gaizo of Newark, and Mary Rickenbacher of Fremont. FHF past presidents include Denise LePielbet, Vicki Gehrung, Judy Johnson, Caryl Gentile, Eva Ricciarelli, and current Marcia Nyman. Eva continued as a visitor and Shinn House docent, always bedecked in full Victorian costume, until age 90. ÒShe always came back to the Garden,Ó Denise says. ÒThe Garden saw her through lifeÕs adversities.Ó

In Memoriam: Eva Jewell Ricciarelli: August 2013

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