photo of club members touring Black Nook in 2023 during a rain storm; they are smiling, wearing raincoats and holding umbrellasA Garden Club Evolving

Though the members of CP&GC have long looked to work for the community, this outreach effort has become increasingly important to CP&GC as environmental challenges are more widespread than at any time in the club’s history.

We now understand that our tree canopy contributes not only shade and beauty, but is a key component strengthening our resilience against the effects of climate change. CP&GC members are proud to serve on the city’s master planning task force: The Urban Forest Master Plan continues to increase the range of a healthy, dense tree canopy, mitigate the effects of urban heat islands and steward healthy trees into the future.

The health of the city’s trees always been a central concern to CP&GC. Early attention was paid to plantings on the Cambridge Common, and later members’ civic activism led to the creation of the Cambridge Committee on Public Planting.

Magazine Beach

A CP&GC members among  the founder of the Charles River Conservancy, a leading advocate for the river’s parklands. CP&GC is pleased to have been an early supporter of CitySprouts, a hands-on schoolyard gardening program that puts children into the garden and fresh garden vegetables into their diets.

Since 2017, CP&GC has supported the restoration of the 17-acre Magazine Beach Park, the second largest park in Cambridge. The President of Magazine Beach Partners, is a CP&GC member, a position she held since 2010. The cool river breeze and free outdoor pool are a draw for families, who have picnicked under generations-old shade trees.

The club continues to be energized by its work in the City and enrichment from among its own members.

The Roots of CP&GC: The Plant Club

Talent and passion for plants joined together several Cambridge women in January 1889. They became the Floricultural Society, but at its second meeting this new club was renamed the Plant Club. Early conservationists, members supported the fledgling “Society for the Protection of Native Plants” now named the Native Plant Trust, the first conservation organization for plants in the United States.

The rich academic community in which the Plant Club was founded created the template still followed by today’s members: educational presentations by scientists, historians, designers, conservationists and members alike that became the central feature of their meetings. Informal committee meetings enhanced the intellectual pursuits of members—sharing their own horticultural knowledge. Recipes for fertilizers and soil enrichment, pest treatments, garden walks and visits, and propagation best practices were among the expertise shared by members.

Interest in the Plant Club grew as its civic work expanded, however membership was quite limited. A sister club was founded in 1938 — the Cambridge Garden Club. Members of the new club, including several Plant Club women, were soon thrown into their first conservation project – helping in the cleanup and restoration after the Great Hurricane of 1938. The shared interests of both clubs led to many joint meetings, programs and outreach projects. Children’s gardening was a particular focus. A campaign in the late 1950s to save 36 acres of marshland along the Charles River from the four-lane Greenough Boulevard failed, but lessons learned set the stage for future successes.

Early in the 1960s, the two clubs embarked on a large conservation project at Fresh Pond Reservation – the City’s largest open space. In partnership with the City, the clubs reclaimed and replanted Blacks Nook, a site that had come to be used for dumping. The experience galvanized members—as organizers, workers, and fundraisers—and the two clubs joined together create the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club. The newly combined organization applied for membership in national group The Garden Club of America, becoming a member in 1968.

CP&GC turned its attention to the restoration of other green spaces in the city though Fresh Pond work continued. CP&GC launched a restoration of the Longfellow House garden and grounds and also focused its energy on the garden at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House History Cambridge. A project that had begun as a Garden Club effort in 1961 continues today. Other planting projects have taken CP&GC to public schools, parks, and many green spaces and non-profits across the city.

The Plant Club’s founders would perhaps be astounded by the way their club has expanded, but they would have hoped for no less. CP&GC is proud that its archives reside at the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in the United States.

Mass Horticultural Society Medal for the Cambridge Plant Club, 1931“What’s in a Name?” or “Is This the First Garden Club?”

There is often controversy surrounding the honor of being first established – whether in the realm of schools, colleges, hospitals, or special-interest clubs. Garden clubs are no exception. The first women’s garden club was a Cambridge club – the Garden Street Garden Club, founded in 1879. After the Plant Club was founded in 1889, the Garden Street Garden Club gave way to the younger club. The third oldest women’s club was the Ladies’ Garden Club of Athens, Georgia, which held its first meeting in 1892. Around 1930, a controversy arose between the Cantabrigians and the Athenians concerning which of the two clubs was an older and truer garden club.

The dispute is laid out “What’s in a Name?’ or ‘Is This the First Garden Club?’” – written by CP&GC historian Annette LaMond and originally published by the Cambridge Historical Society (now History Cambridge). The paper includes a number of images drawn from the archives of the CP&GC. Read a PDF of the article here.

A History Reclaimed: The Society for the Protection of Native Plants and the Cambridge Plant Club

Members of the Cambridge Plant Club developed an interest in the conservation wild flowers in the 1890s, and became subscribers of the Society for the Protection of Native Plants soon after its founding in 1901. This paper by Annette LaMond gives a history of this early conservation organization, and its subsequent transformation into the New England Wild Flower Society. The paper, which includes many illustrations, also gives new recognition to the roles of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and The Garden Club of America in supporting the protection of native plants. Together, the two organizations encouraged a succession of ardent gardeners, including our club’s members, to dedicate their volunteer energy to the New England Wild Flower Society, paving the way for today’s vibrant Native Plant Trust. Read a PDF of the essay HERE.

Index to Plant Club Speakers, 1889–1965

Annette LaMond

This index of Plant Club speakers includes many names that are still known today, at least in their fields or by local historians. Quite a few were Harvard professors; one of the first to address the club was the Arnold Arboretum’s Charles Sprague Sargent. Notably, some of the professors specialized in other fields, such as classics and archeology, but were formidable botanists and horticulturists nonetheless. Among the landscape designers who spoke to the club were Mabel Babcock; Paul Frost; Warren Manning (who also provided advice on civic projects); and Fletcher Steele. (Babcock and Steele designed gardens for several club members.) Well-known botanists include Alice Eastwood; Margaret Clay Ferguson; Merritt L. Fernald; George L. Goodale; Paul C. Mangelsdorf; and Benjamin L. Robinson. Plantswomen and plantsmen who shared their knowledge include Mrs. Hugh Hencken (before she became television personality Thalassa Cruso); John George Jack; Kathryn Taylor; Helen Noyes Webster (better known as Mrs. Hollis Webster); and Donald Wyman. Quite a few speakers were conservationists. Although their names may no longer be familiar, they played lead roles in saving thousands of acres that are now beloved sanctuaries. Among them: Annette Cottrell; Walter Deane; Kay Kulmala; Winthrop Packard; and Theodore Lyman Storer. Other speakers – Emma G. Cummings; Kaneji Demoto; Robert T. Jackson; Edith H. Scamman – defy categorization and should also be better known. This is also true of member speakers. It is my hope that the history of the Plant Club, viewed through its programs, will give new recognition to all the speakers in this index.

View a PDF of the index here.

A History in One Thousand Programs (More or Less): The Cambridge Plant Club, 1889–1965

Plant Club record book, Volume I, page 1. Originally the Floricultural Society, the

Plant Club record book, Volume I, page 1. Originally the Floricultural Society, the simpler Plant Club moniker was adopted at the club’s second meet- ing on February 11, 1889.

Read about the Cambridge of the 1880s and the women who came together in the unseasonably warm winter of 1889 to found a garden club. The moniker “Garden Club” was not yet a term of art (or obvious choice), so they debated and settled on a simple name – Plant Club – which expressed their shared interest in growing plants well, indoors and out. This essay describes how members of the club were continually inspired and re-energized by expert speakers, including from their own ranks, and how over the years, a passion for gardening turned into advocacy for conservation and civic planting in Cambridge and beyond.

Read a PDF of the article HERE.

Member bagging yard waste at a Hooper-Lee-Nichols House clean upSixty Years of Gardening at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House

The Hooper-Lee-Nichols House was donated to the Cambridge Historical Society in 1957. After settling into the house, the Society reached out to the then separate Cambridge Garden Club (founded 1938) and Cambridge Plant Club (founded 1889) about the care of the grounds. The Garden Club, which was considering a project to celebrate its upcoming 25th anniversary, accepted the invitation as a major project.

Thanks to a 1920s renovation, the HLN garden had good bones. Garden Club members set to pruning existing plant material (including the crabapple trees that still grace the entrance). Out of this hands-on work came a collaborative design for a colonial-era estate in miniature. Features: yew hedges, lawns, roses, herb garden within a boxwood circle on the west of the house, and orchard to the east. To realize the plan, members propagated boxwood and yews. The club’s horticulturists accomplished a great deal on a surprisingly small budget.

At the project’s five-year mark, the club planted a little-leaf linden at the south- east corner, still a feature, and a fringe tree, which is not. The yews, which had grown vigorously, were spaced out to extend the hedge that endures as a sig- nature of the garden. Also honoring the club’s early work – an armillary sundial for the center of the boxwood circle – was donated by a club member after it made an appearance in a Massachusetts Horticultural Society spring flower show.

Clean up at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House, 2018

Clean up at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House, 2018

In 1966, the Garden Club merged with the Plant Club. After the merger, other major projects competed for members’ attention. Landscape restoration at Fresh Pond Reservation was one. Another was the Longfellow House garden, then in shabby condition (it had not yet been conveyed to the National Park Service). A club committee continued to tend the grounds at Hooper-Lee-Nichols, but it was a low-key effort for the next two decades.

In 1987, CP&GC re-engaged with the maintenance and design of the garden. Members re-dug the front perennial beds, expanding and adding plantings. Thus began regular club spring and
fall work days, featuring raking, bulb planting, pruning, deadheading, and of course, weeding. In recognition of the club’s renewed commitment, Capizzi& Company pruned all the trees and shrubs on the grounds pro bono. Capizzi’s crews still hand-clip the yew hedges each year.

The boxwood circle on the west side of the house began to decline in the 1980s, and by the mid-1990s, the circle became a half-circle. In 2003, the struggling survivors were removed when the club won a grant from the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts to replant the boxwood garden. Unfortunately, the new plants suffered during the severe winter of 2003–04. The next year, they were replaced by boxwood salvaged from the Longfellow House garden which was under renovation. Sadly, these boxwood plants also declined, and were recently removed. The area awaits a new planting plan.

In 2010, the club committed to restore the garden’s front gate – a Colonial Revival feature (ca. 1916) that had fallen into deteriorated condition. A club member who is an architect volunteered to prepare drawings, and more than $10,000 was raised to rebuild the gate with new lighting and modifications to the entry’s steps.

Also in 2010, club members refocused on the east side of the house, where the orchard had been shaded out – an effort that involved adding edging, removing scrubby plants (including two of the last three fruit trees dating to 1963)
and planting new perennials. At the same time, CP&GC planted a pair of pink-flowering dogwoods in front of the east yew hedge.

In 2011, the club received another grant from the Garden Club Federation for the restoration of the grape trellis on the east side of the house. One of the contractors, Rocco Ricci whose own Cushing Street garden has been on the CPL Secret Gardens tour, donated his grapevine-pruning expertise after the trellis was rebuilt. In recognition of the grant, Hartney Greymont contributed a pruning of all the major trees on the grounds (zelkova, oaks, pine, and maple).

Club resources have been used to repair perennial beds and lawn following house painting (2005–06), electrical work (2008), snowplow damage (2009) and shutter restoration (2012–13). The front door’s brick pad and sandstone step were renovated in 2016, and drain- age edging along the front of the house was upgraded in 2022. Much of this work has been performed or facilitated by local landscaper Michael Hanlon, whose Blakeslee Street garden is also on the CPL tour.

Each year, CP&GC contributes financially to the trimming of yew hedges, lawn care, tree pruning and to special projects. Club volunteers meet at least three to four times annually for cleanups of the grounds, and a small group tends to the garden throughout the year.

Club goals for the HLN garden in 2023: rejuvenation of the perennial beds and the selection of a replacement tree for the ancient chestnut tree that had to be taken down three years ago.

—Lindsay Greimann & Annette LaMond June 2022

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