Hamilton-Wenham Garden Club, PO Box 2035, South Hamilton MA 01982 | Contact us | follow us at
In April of 1934 Community Garden Club of Hamilton and Wenham Massachusetts was established and later named the Hamilton-Wenham Garden Club. The object of the Club is to “stimulate an interest in the knowledge of gardening, to aid in the protection and conservation of natural resources, and to promote civic beauty.” Throughout the seasons, one needs only to look around our towns to see how well our
Club members have fulfilled the “promotion of civic beauty.”
Happy 85th Anniversary HWGC! As we celebrate our 85th year, the history of the club could not be more important as we navigate through the extraordinary year that is 2020. The strength of our club is its members, both past and present, and we all have the opportunity to share memories, reminisce, learn from the past, and hope for the future as we remain in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, during the first half of 2020, our club has remained vibrant and active. Though we have not been able to meet in person since February, we’ve “met” online and conducted three meetings. We’ve shared news and garden tips using 21st century tools like the internet, social media, and videoconferencing. We’ve been able to meet in small groups with “socially distanced summer garden tours”. Some members have simply picked up the telephone and called others just to say, “Hello, how are you?” And our beautiful newsletter continues to help connect us.
We’ve continued in our mission of civic beauty, by planting and maintaining the town planters and Pingree Park Garden via socially distant scheduling. As more people became quarantined at home, gardening has become once again a very popular hobby for many in our region. We’ve seen a re-emergence of “Victory Gardens” reminiscent of World War II, and as people looked to support their families and friends with home grown food.
Many years ago, long time member Marge Mahan shared her thoughts on the club’s mission after World War II. “After the war, people were happy to do something for their community. We made arrangements and helped out at art shows that were held in the school. Sometimes our annual dinner was a potluck in one of our homes. Husbands were always invited to these affairs.” Past President Betty Johnson added, “During WWII and a few years following, the main focus of the club was to help people create “victory gardens” so that folks could grow their own vegetables.”
Although the pandemic dictates that we cannot gather in groups, our members remain eager and happy to stay true to our mission statement. We are planning on-line educational opportunities to our members and the community for 2020-2021, and look forward to our first ever “virtual” plant sale this fall. Our Board is working to find ways to continue our very successful Juniors and Garden Therapy programs. We awarded another scholarship to a deserving high school senior in June. Now, for this very special yearbook, several members have shared new memories for all to enjoy...with a nod to our past members for their special memories as well.
Betty Johnson recalled that from the beginning, “it was proposed that the club hold an Annual Flower Show.” The shows were held at the Community House, Burnham Hall, the Essex Agricultural School, and other venues. One of the club’s earliest projects was the establishment of a Wild Flower Preserve in the Black Brook Reservation that is maintained by Harvard University. Past President
Jeanne Whitman remembers that in April 2013, HWGC hosted a standard flower show, “The Science and Beauty of Spring,” in cooperation with Gordon College in their Ken Olsen Science Center.” “It was a huge success for all involved and drew many people from the community. Co-chaired by LuBeth Kuemmerle and
Joanne Kennett, it included 6 floral design classes, numerous horticultural
classes, photography and educational exhibits. The event garnered HWCG
two NGC awards.”
Many longtime members recall how the club has changed over the years. Marge Mahan remembered joining with her mother-in-law in 1955. While meeting a very friendly group of people, “we were fascinated by their knowledge. We learned so much from Vi McLaren about flower arranging. All year long Vi would have us collecting berries, nuts, and cones in preparation for the Tour of Homes. In those times, women wore high heels but the shoes made pockmarks on the floors, so we had to ask visiting ladies to remove their shoes before they entered the tour. We had a few disgruntled ladies walking about in stocking feet! We had so much fun making things to sell, such as flowers made from milkweed pods and jewelry from acorns. We mostly met in people’s homes. For meetings, everyone was dressed in their finest - women wore hats with veils and gloves. We were always happy to wear the gloves as it covered up our gardener hands.” Member and past Historian Linda Sarkesian also recalls that when she joined twenty years ago, people dressed up for meetings.
Member (and wearer of many hats!) Mardi Lowery joined in 1988 when one had to be recommended by a member, and there were no guests at the meetings. “We tended to dress up. Meetings were held at the Wenham Museum with the silver service in full view. Over the years much has relaxed - dress, food, casual serveware - and we’ve become much more inclusive and we’re more connected to the Federation. Highlights for me were bagging Arbor Day trees in an assembly line at Jackie Finocchio’s house and planting the downtown planters (we’d go out to eat afterwards). It was Jackie that started the planters, and they used to include hanging baskets at the old Hamilton RR station. We had a garden tour every other year - the shifts were often a bore, but a fun partner made all the difference.”
Another theme shared by members is that of all the learning experiences (including the mistakes!) and how our members learn and come together in tough times. “Being in HWGC has taught me about being tough - in a really good way,” says past President LuBeth Kuemmerle. “Because we all work together, there is no gardening job that is too big, too heavy, or too hard. Members do not complain about the weather - rainy days are good days. Age is not a factor. Carry on! Years of experience only makes one stronger. Get down and get dirty!”
LuBeth continues, “This toughening up can begin early with Provisional members. I know firsthand. One came to my house to complete a provisional activity requirement, making labels for an upcoming sale. It was raining. Just as we began, a car drove through two planters on the Cherry Street island. The planters were in splinters with pansies, pussy willows and most of the soil strewn in the street. What to do? In typical HWGC fashion, we rose to the occasion. In the rain, the soil and plants were scooped up into boxes and in no time, we both were covered in mud. What began as a gentle morning of making labels became so much more. The pansies and pussy willows were eventually replanted into two reconstructed planters and that stalwart provisional became an active member later that spring. In time, she served as a wonderful President of HWGC. Tough is good.” And who was that stalwart provisional? Past President Heather Kent! She also shared memories of that event. “As always, I was greeted warmly by LuBeth, but there was an unexpected “frazzle” in her tone...we made our way to Cherry Street where our freshly groomed planters had been struck by a vehicle. Plants were mangled and sprawled all over the island and road. Without batting an eyelash, LuBeth gracefully gathered all plant material, and we replanted what we could into the two boxes that were salvageable. By the evening the plants looked almost perky again and the remains of the two damaged planters had been removed. Passers by may have never known what happened! A huge lesson learned from that day… plants are resilient under a watchful eye and steady, sure hands can mend just about anything! A good lesson that crosses all disciplines.”
Althea Cranton says that she has learned SO much from HWGC. “When I first joined, there was an in-house garden show at an estate in Hamilton. The competition I entered called for a design in an old lunch box. Even though my design was okay, they didn’t mean my daughter’s old pink Hello Kitty© lunchbox! Old=Vintage. At a monthly meeting the design competition theme was a traditional design representing vacation. As I had just been in Colorado, I decided to do a design in a cowboy boot. Lesson learned - make sure your container doesn’t leak!”
For anyone hesitant to enter a design or horticulture competition, Althea’s memory can make anyone feel more at ease, as well as this from Heather Kent. “As someone new to floral design, I received a call from Joan Mason who encouraged me to enter the Topsfield Fair as a novice. I was terrified, but thanks to the additional encouragement of Jeanne Whitman, I agreed and a design evolved. I will never forget the glowing smile on Jeanne’s face as she took me down to the Flower Show arena to set up, it gave me great comfort and a sense of confidence, even though I was a little unsure of my entry. I managed to place with a blue ribbon and won the very first 2014 Georgia McHugh Novice Award! If Joan had not called, and Jeanne had not nurtured/mentored, I never would have considered entering this event. I can still see the excited hustle and bustle of that early morning, designers clumped together on crowded tables finishing their work before leaving the area for the judges. Thank you to Joan and Jeanne. It was a whole new experience that has gently shifted my world…”
Many members recalled the wonderful field trips or public garden tours that the club organized. Past President Joanne Kennett remembered the elaborate public garden tours in the 1990’s. “The tours included member gardens but also some local magnificent estate gardens. The planning and actual day of the tour required the help of many members to successfully handle the several hundred visitors.” Past President Pat Fleming and member Jayne O’Connor remembered trips to Newport, RI for their flower show at Rosecliff Mansion. “What a treat it was,” recalled Jane, “and the day included lunch and a visit to other gardens.” One trip was taken specifically in celebration of the club’s 80th Anniversary and took place in June 2015. The theme of the Newport Show was “American Beauty - Timeless Style. Pat recalls, “We ventured to a local restaurant for lunch, then visited the Green Animal Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, RI. The day long trip was a wonderful way for the members of HWGC to celebrate 80 years as a club.”
Another Anniversary, this time the 65th in 1999, was remembered by Joanne Kennett. The event included a commendation from the governor and local officials attended a formal celebration at the Wenham Museum.
I believe many of us can relate to Heather Kent, being a new member of HWGC and not knowing many members yet. “During one of my first HWGC meetings attended (2009), when I was still feeling awkward and a little out of place - I glanced down just before heading over to the amazing hospitality table and noticed a wonderful pair of bulky, comfy, bright green gardening shoes heading my way. The woman wearing them had a welcoming smile. What a comfort - my shyness immediately dissolved. Later that night I emailed my sister… ‘I found my people!’”
Like I said, this is what makes HWGC so very special...it’s us, members past and present. I look forward to what memories we all make this year, the friendships we make, the lessons we learn, and the joy we can find whether alone in our garden, waving hello on a videoconference, or, in time, gathering as we usually do each month. A special thank you to our President, Paula Bartlett, who has helped us all navigate through these unprecedented times and a special wish of joy, peace and health to all the members of the Hamilton Wenham Garden Club!
By Lisa Harrison, Vice President, The Hamilton-Wenham Garden Club