By Shirley Murtha
Have you noticed how attractive and well-kept Granby's municipal properties are? Back in June and July, the "Blue Billow" and pink "Invincibelle" hydrangeas that border the main entrances to the Town Hall and Meeting Room were worthy of inclusion in Better Homes and Gardens. Plantings behind the police station and along the driveway next to it are also stunning, and not just in high summer. These delights are the work of one very special Public Works employee, Chris Lesiak.
A Suffield resident, Lesiak has worked for the Town of Granby for almost a decade, during which time he has obtained a Custom Grounds Ornamental License from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Awarded chiefly for knowledge of pesticide applications, the license required many hours of course work including the study of turf, trees, shrubs and perennials.
Lesiak already had quite a store of information about turf and plants having started work at the age of 16 with a private landscaper. At age 17, he worked for a commercial landscaper who was responsible for the horticultural design of large buildings, including colleges and the ESPN campus in Bristol. Lesiak did not contribute to the design aspect of these projects, but he was able to lock away a college education's worth of plant names and growth habits.
Just prior to coming to Granby, Lesiak worked for the Town of Farmington where he was responsible for the parks and the town golf course. There he honed his knowledge of turf and grass care.
Lesiak was hired in Granby as a general maintenance employee, but it was soon evident that his specialty was grounds keeping and he has pretty much taken over the care of all the public grounds in the town. The municipal complex and Salmon Brook Park may be the most visible to all residents, but he also manages the plantings and upkeep of the smaller cemeteries (Silver Street, Creamery Hill, Quarry Road, East Street), the dog pound, the Public Works property and Cossitt Library. Wherever there is town-owned open space, Lesiak has a plan for its upkeep.
Most recently added to his list is the property around the North Barn renovation at Holcomb Farm. Lesiak noted that the Farm was "a blank canvas that needed to be treated with the respect that its history and significance deserved." To that end, he selected native turf and perennials that work in the Farm's environment. The windswept nature of the property called for sturdy plants whose vintage scents would be carried by that wind, hence the lavender and Russian sage in front of the North Barn. Alongside them and extending across the north end of the main barn are coreopsis, day lilies and small Knock Out rose bushes, chosen for their sturdiness and resistance to disease. Wooden tubs of Black-eyed Susans and sedum line the path to the covered entrance common to both barns. Scented grasses and feather reeds complete the picture. Lesiak sees the Farm landscaping as a work in progress. He will evaluate the design after a year to see what is working well and what might need replacement.
Lesiak also sees the municipal complex as an evolving landscape. Working with what was already in place, he has begun to gradually change the design to make it as easy to maintain as it is beautiful to observe. He noted that he would indeed have a hard time keeping up with all this horticulture if it were not for the group of young people hired by Public Works for the summer. He was most impressed with their interest and dedication to the task on even the hottest of days.
During the interview at the Farm, this writer noticed several bees hovering around the lavender and asked Lesiak if he had the pollenators in mind when selecting some of his specimens. He replied that is definitely always a goal, but that sometimes it is not a good idea to have too many bees nearby, as when planting around a playground or daycare facility. At the Farm, however, it was a natural fit.
A soft-spoken and humble man, Lesiak declined to be photographed for this article, but if you drive by any of the above-mentioned town properties and see a fair-haired bearded young man plucking weeds, applying mulch or edging the flower beds, it is most likely him. It is Granby's great fortune to have him helping to make our town the beautiful place that it is.