History of The Garden Club of New Haven
A marvelously concise history of the club was presented by members in period dress at our 2014 Annual Meeting. This history was adapted and written by member Karyl Evans based on the research and the publication of “An Inside Look at The Garden Club of New Haven: A Short History” by member Kathleen S. Lundgren. For a year-by-year narrative, scroll below to the “Highlights of Garden Club History” .
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GARDEN CLUB OF NEW HAVEN
Nine decades ago the Garden Club of New Haven was organized by a group of New Haven women who wanted to pursue their interest in gardening in a more organized and communal way. In a matter of minutes we will give you a very brief history of the Garden Club of New Haven decade by decade.
“The Decade of the 1920s”
Just 4 short years after fighting to win the right to vote, several New Haven women took a drive out to Woodbridge to admire the gardens and the countryside. They decided during their drive that they wanted to share their deep interest in the importance of natural beauty with their other friends in New Haven. The year was 1924, our founders names are Bradley (our first President) Barnes, Kirschner, Houghton, Billings, Demarest, and Davis. The first meeting of the Garden Club of New Haven attracted 50 women and was held at the New Haven Country Club. The primary goals were to develop their love of gardening, pursue more active gardening within the city, and promote civic conservation work in New Haven. The very next year, the Club held its first flower show which took place in the New Haven Public Library. The first Tulip Show quickly followed in 1926. In 1927, the Club led the way in forming what became The Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut in large part because the already-incorporated Garden Club of America had limited it membership to its 12 founding Clubs.
“The Decade of the 1930s”
The decade of the 1930’s began with a flower show which attracted over 1,000 visitors. The 1933 flower show was so popular among city residents, Club members decided to extend the show to a two day event. The Club’s relationship with the city was important to early members. Civic activity was most visible with the planting of the dogwoods in 1934 which lined the Boulevard. The next year, when 150 rose bushes were donated to the City of New Haven, the women of the Garden Club were asked to take over the project , and did, planting the 150 rose bushes which resulted in the Club’s first work in the Pardee Rose Garden which had been established in 1922.
“The Decade of the 1940s”
The activities of the Club in the early 1940s reflected the fact that the United States was at war. The Club established a War Relief Committee and members met weekly to do “war work” which included “making garments” to be sent overseas. The 1940 “Victory” Flower Show was held at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Small bedside flower arrangements to cheer up patients were created and delivered to what is now Yale New Haven Hospital. The Horticulture and Civic Committees focused on Victory Gardens and the Board voted that all “art projects were to be suspended” so that members could, make useful gifts for servicemen, use gardens “therapeutically” for the war wounded, and work with school children to grow vegetable gardens for home, while sending seeds from their gardens to a starving Britain. After the War, normal life slowly resumed. The annual flower show was reestablished in 1947 while the Civic Committee began plans for what is now Phelps Triangle.
“The Decade of the 1950s”
This was a new era and activities were no longer focused on the war effort. Through the 1950s, Garden Club members dedicated their time to improving the New Haven landscape. In 1951 the Triangle at Whitney Avenue and Trumbull Street was planted. Various plantings plans were also created for the New Haven Green, East Rock Park, and the mall at Edgewood. The “New Haven Register” described the Club’s activities in the community and stated the Garden Club of New Haven’s “… cultural contributions seek a proper balance of nature, soil conservation, and park management.” In 1952 the Garden Club was welcomed into the Garden Club of America which had opened its membership to new clubs.
“The Decade of the 1960s”
The Club dedicated itself to reviving the Elm trees on the New Haven Green (in the city dubbed “the Elm City”) by planting 6 majestic elms on the corner of Church and Chapel Streets. During the mid-1960s, the Club’s Conservation Committee became active in the “Open Space Program” in support of the efforts to prevent destruction of parks, as highway development threatened to take more and more open land. Members planted gardens in the Hill District, they planted flower boxes in front of City Hall, and they organized a tour of homes on Hillhouse Avenue. The “New Haven Register” again reported on the Club’s “diligent work for the betterment of the community” in the form of beautification projects around New Haven.
“The Decade of the 1970s”
The 1970s saw a new challenge as the culture shifted to a more casual, less formal, some might say “revolutionary” way of life. The women of the Garden Club of New Haven, however seemed to respond with relative ease to these cultural changes. Period photographs reveal visitors to the annual flower shows dressed in jeans and t-shirts - clearly enjoying the beauty of the displays presented. This decade also saw the culmination of several of the Club’s civic projects. Phelps Triangle was dedicated as a mini-park, New Haven Harbor was planted, the Flag Court at Fort Nathan Hale was restored, West Rock Nature Center was planted with naturalized materials, and Audubon Street mini-park was planted.
“The Decade of the 1980s”
The 1980s brought success for the Garden Club, winning local and national awards and increasing the treasury which allowed the newly organized “Project Trees” to plant 51 Elm trees in the city in 1984. Just two years later, Club members raised $100,000 to plant an additional 25 Elm trees, 19 dogwoods, and 2 specimen trees on the New Haven Green as well as to support future plantings and maintenance of the trees. The Club also granted money to fund special projects in the community including a project to teach children about the marine environment, and a project where members planted 500 bulbs at Audubon Street mini-park.
“The Decade of the 1990s”
In the 1990s the Club continued to sustain old collaborations and began many new partnerships including work with the Eli Whitney Museum, The Ronald McDonald House, the Long Wharf Nature Preserve, the New Haven Colony Historical Society, The Connecticut Agricultural Station, the New Haven Green, East Rock Park, and of course Phelps Triangle where the watering system was upgraded and computerized.
In 1994, the membership voted to accept men as members, in 1995 the newsletter began, and in 1996 the Elm tree nursery began at East Rock Park to replace Elms on the Green. Garden Club members also purchased and planted 10,000 bulbs in the inner city.
“The Beginning of the 21st Century”
At the beginning of the 21st century, New Haven Garden Club members have continued the mission of the Club by expanding our reach to projects with Habitat for Humanity, Common Ground Magnet School, Yale New Haven Hospital, Fellowship Place, the Connecticut Science Center, the Neighborhood Music School, and a major renovation of Phelps Triangle. A new Photography Committee began, the Club website was created, and the documentation of two gardens by the Garden History and Design Committee were accepted by the Smithsonian Institution. The Club gave $10,000 to the Urban Resources Initiative, helping to plant trees and map the urban canopy. Tree planting on the Green extended to a tulip tree, scarlet oak, sugar maple, white oak, and more elms and dogwoods. Seasonal arrangements made their way to nursing homes and the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.
One of the most ambitious projects of the Club was the 2013 GCA Tree Project headed up by Debbie Edwards which included the production of a 30 minute documentary film by Karyl Evans titled “The New Haven Green: Heart of a City”, a walking tour of the Green, and the planting of over 100 elm trees in the city. A brief history of the Garden Club of New Haven was written by Kathleen Lundgren, the “Tulip Show” was reinstated for the first time since 1930, and Mikey Hirschoff led the active role the Club took in helping to protect trees throughout Connecticut from unnecessary removal and harmful pruning. All this decade is just getting started!
Learning the history of the Club makes what we do today make more sense. It is satisfying to know that our original mission has stayed constant and grown through 90 years of making a real difference in people’s lives in the city of New Haven and beyond. Here is to another 90 years of developing our love of gardening, promoting civic, hospital and conservation work, and promoting the importance of natural beauty.