On the Joy Beat, we’ve talked quite a bit about the joy in appreciating the beauty of the outdoors. The connection with nature can rejuvenate the spirit and come with solid health benefits.

It’s especially wonderful when we can access that joy just by walking down the street. This week on the Joy Beat, a listener called in to share her appreciation for those who keep her city, Gloucester, beautiful and in bloom:

“Just an incredible brigade who work to plant dahlias and tulips — beautiful gardens all over the city of Gloucester. Traffic islands, the boulevard... just the most innocuous little corner where it’s just filled with flowers. It’s just a remarkable, remarkable group.”

Those beautiful gardens in Gloucester couldn’t have grown without the selfless people who turn ideas into action. Today, we’re celebrating the Generous Gardeners, an organization that promotes philanthropy through gardening and bringing beauty to the community.

Susan Kelly, founder of Generous Gardeners, and Antonietta Calabrese, one of her top gardeners, joined GBH’s All Things Considered host Arun Rath to discuss how they’ve transformed the city’s outdoor spaces. What follows is a lightly edited transcript, aired Friday, July 5.

Arun Rath: So first, Susan, tell us about your reaction to getting this nomination. How did that make you feel?

Susan Kelly: Well, I’m very proud of Generous Gardeners. It makes me tear up when I think about what we’ve accomplished in the last 12 years in Gloucester. I have just an amazing group of volunteers. We’re not a garden club, we don’t have meetings, we don’t pay dues. We just meet to garden. We have really transformed the city, and everybody agrees!

But I do say we would be toiling in obscurity if we didn’t have the [Stacy] Boulevard — a quarter mile of formal gardens along the water that were constructed for us in 2016 as part of the seawall reconstruction project. Those flagship gardens bring us a lot of attention.

Rath: Antoinetta, how did you feel hearing that tape?

Antoinetta Calabrese: Well, I’ve [worked with] Susan for the past also 12 years. But recently, when we did the seawall, like [Susan] says, we figured out the dahlias. And I think that’s what everybody’s loving — it’s all the dahlias. We have, like, two thousand dahlias on the Boulevard that I planted. I just finished, and now they’re about to start blooming, so it’s pretty fun.

I love to be with [the other gardeners]. We have fun in other ways, not just gardening. We recruit people all the time, and they really, really love to be with us.

Rath: Susan, it sounds like Generous Gardeners really blossomed — forgive me — with that seawall project, but how did it start out?

Kelly: Generous Gardeners actually started out as an idea I had with my dear friend Teresa O’Connell. 14 years ago. We were going to build basically a Craigslist for plants online.

Then, in the process of promoting it, people told me, “Oh, why don’t you restart the city’s planting committee?” It had been defunct for a decade, and there was a lot of messiness. I mean, if you’d been up to Gloucester 14 years ago, compared to how it looks now, it’s been transformed. It was really scruffy, and the public gardens were not maintained.

That original idea went way away, but as a result, that was where Generous Gardeners’ branding and the name and the logo and all of that [came from]. We just morphed into a nonprofit volunteer group, which has been very successful. Sometimes you just have to roll with the flow and figure out what works.

Rath: What a contrast, going from no maintenance to what you have right now. Describe what is there in a bit more detail on the Boulevard and everything.

Kelly: Right. We now have 80 active volunteers. About 200 people get my blast — I do everything by email — and I basically say where we’re going to be gardening, when, and come if you can. So there’s never any obligation, but we always wear green aprons, and we have a big presence.

We take care of 49 locations in Gloucester. The Boulevard counts as one, which people get blown away by. But we take care of every traffic island, the HarborWalk gardens, the police station … you can look at our website. We have a lot of locations that, if you’re a local, you’ll recognize. But [what the caller said] is true — you know, whenever you look around, when you see a little nook and it’s full of beautiful flowers, it’s probably one of our locations.

But the main way we fund Generous Gardeners is through our garden tour.

Rath: That’s happening tomorrow? On Saturday?

Kelly: Yeah. The garden tour will be tomorrow. It’s our 12th annual Gloucester Garden tour. We move the Garden Tour around every year to different parts of Gloucester, so we never repeat gardens — we will start having to repeat some gardens, you know, in the future. But basically, every garden on this tour has never been on a garden tour before.

And then, we have five shuttle buses that will take visitors to the first garden, at which point it is a 1.4-mile walking tour. We have 15 gardens. We do recommend people wear supported, serious, sensible shoes — it is very hilly. But it is beautiful and sweet and [has] wonderful views and wonderful gardens.

Rath: We’re right at the height of summer now. What are the most spectacular flowers we’re seeing?

Kelly: So, our dahlia gardens are really what I get the phone calls about. People come from all over the world to see the dahlias. We have 378 varieties.

Antoinetta is the dahlia queen. She planted every single dahlia.

Calabrese: Two thousand of them.

Kelly: On the Boulevard [by] herself. Yes, they’re her babies. And then, in the fall, we have to dig them all out, and we overwinter them in a climate-controlled storage unit.

The reason we moved to dahlias is because the storms have gotten so bad that we have to tarp over the beds on the boulevard for the winter. The storms really have gotten bad, and the salt water crashes over in some of those bad storms. We replaced all of the soil that got salt-saturated.

Again, it’s a huge labor of love, but we get support from a lot of the local landscapers. They come with their equipment and help us. We get a lot of support from the community, as you can imagine, a lot of financial support. That’s one of the reasons Gloucester is so beautiful; it’s because we have the funding that we can use to pay for all these flowers.

If you’ve been to a garden center recently, you’ll realize flowers are not inexpensive. Dirt is not cheap, and water is not free.

Calabrese: Yeah, we replace the 70 yards of soil on the beds on the Boulevard only. That’s a lot of shoveling.

Kelly: So, we are serious gardeners. I guess you can sense from that that we are really into our avocation. Many of us work, too, so we spend a huge amount of time in summer doing stuff for free for Generous Gardeners. Nobody gets paid. We have no staff. We’re all volunteers.

Rath: Antoinetta, you must get joy from gardening, I mean, if you’re planting thousands and thousands of flowers. What is it like for you?

Calabrese: I’m on the Boulevard all day long, from 8 o’clock in the morning ’til 5 o’clock at night.

Kelly: Seven days a week!

Calabrese: Seven days a week, including Saturdays and Sundays, which [is when] most people are out walking, and they ask so many questions. They come from all over the United States — even the world, sometimes. We have people from everywhere, so just by [answering] questions from them, I really love it.

Also, [I love] being outdoors and seeing my babies growing, you know, literally in front of your eyes. Because I know — if one is not growing, I will investigate underneath the soil and [see] what’s going on: if they’ve got too much water, or if there are bugs under there or something, I go ahead an pull that out and replace it with a new one.

The Boulevard has to be perfect. I don’t want anything missing on any aisle because everything is in a row. If something is missing, then you’re going to notice it.

Rath: Susan, I can’t imagine you had any sense when starting from a plant-swapping website that you would end up transforming your city.

Kelly: I tend to be overambitious sometimes. I [have] unrealistic goals that actually happen to be achievable sometimes. We have a great team, and we all work very hard.