Willard Banning

“I’m glad I have had a small part in its success. We’ve all had a great time.”

Former florist Willard Banning has an abundance of knowledge to share in the field of horticulture, and he’s sharing it with budding gardeners at Alternatives.

Recently Alternatives bought the site of the long-closed Banning’s Flower Shop in Whitinsville. The main idea was to develop affordable housing on the property, but an additional use for the site soon cropped up. Why not grow flowers and vegetables on the overgrown land next to the building? And who better to turn to for guidance on the project than Willard Banning?

Willard Banning was happy to take on the assignment. It took a lot of hard work to get the overgrown plot in shape for planting. Under Willard’s tutelage, however, the Alternatives’ workers soon had the vacant lot abloom with colorful flowers and healthful produce. The fruits of their labor are sold during the summer at the Heritage Market on the agency’s Community Plaza. Previously individuals served by Alternatives bought flowers elsewhere and resold them at the market.

“I’m glad I have had a small part in its success. We’ve all had a great time,” said Willard.

At the outset, not all the new gardeners had such a good time, though, added Harry Sutherland, an employment facilitator with Alternatives, as well as “the head gardener.” It was, after all, hard work. That reluctance disappeared once the plants began to flourish. Before long, the workers couldn’t wait to get into the garden, Harry said.

Willard Banning gets high praise from Harry for his volunteer efforts on behalf of Alternatives. He termed the former florist “a father figure to us all.”

“He has been wonderfully generous with his knowledge and wisdom. He’s a great resource,” said Harry.