From early efforts to preserve native plants; to advocacy for hazardous waste disposal days; and protecting our cooling tree canopy, members of CP&GC have strived to be good environmental stewards.

Native Plant Month Initiative logo showing text on top of an tree illustrationCambridge Plant & Garden Club Hosted Three Projects to Support Native Plants

image showing The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Proclamation that April 2024 is Massachusetts Native Plant MonthGovernor Maura Healey officially proclaimed April Native Plant Month!

While all plants protect our planet’s air, water, and soil, native plants do all this and more. Native plants have evolved with native bees, birds, and other wildlife; this complex relationship is extremely specialized and cannot be substituted with exotic or non-native plants. Native plants include large canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs, perennials, vines or grasses that are indigenous to an area with a unique growing habitat.

North American native species are at risk of extinction because they cannot get nutrition from non-native plants. Habitat loss, climate change, and pesticide use in addition to competition from non-natives, are contributing to the steep decline of insects, caterpillars, birds, and many other species.

The Cambridge Plant & Garden Club hosted three projects to support natives and has partnered with many regional organizations like Grow Native Massachusetts.

More information on native plants, resources, and the events that were held.

October 13, 2022 (CP&GC workers mobilizing in the perennial beds) Photograph by Liz Adams.
Renovating the Garden at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House

Photo at left: October 13, 2022 (CP&GC workers mobilizing in the perennial beds) Photograph by Liz Adams.

Have you noticed anything different about the gar den at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House this fall? The Cambridge Plant & Garden Club, which has maintained the garden for decades, is making changes.

The Hooper-Lee-Nichols House was left to the Cambridge Historical Society in 1957 after the deaths of the last private owner, Frances Emerson, and her husband. 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.

November 21, 2022 (Michael Hanlon, Angel Maldonado, and Juan Penate removing perennials). Photo by Annette LaMond.

November 21, 2022 (Michael Hanlon, Angel Maldonado, and Juan Penate removing perennials). Photo by Annette LaMond.

Garden Club members set to work – pruning existing plant material, including the existing crabapple trees. Out of this hands-on work came a collaborative design for a garden that would represent a colonial-era Brattle Street estate in miniature. Features: yew hedges, herb garden within a boxwood circle, lilacs, and orchard. To realize the plan, members propagated boxwood and yews. (Those yews have grown into the hedges that are now one of the garden’s most prominent features.) A great deal was accomplished on a surprisingly small budget.

In 1966, the Garden Club merged with the Plant Club to form the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club. With the Hooper-Lee-Nichols garden in good condition, the club focused their united energies on other projects. A club committee continued to tend the grounds at Hooper-Lee-Nichols, but it was a low-key effort.

In the late 1980s, the CP&GC returned to the HLN garden, re-digging and expanding the front perennial beds. Since then, the club, which is a 501(c)(3), has added several trees, funded annual hand-clipping of the yew hedges, lawn care, and tree-pruning. Other projects: restoration of the front gate, the grape trellis, brick edging and paths, and most recently the drainage border behind the front perennial bed. Along the way, the club has held regular work days, featuring cleanups, bulb planting, pruning, deadheading, and weeding. By the estimate of the club historian, nearly 100 CP&GC members have volunteered their time in the garden.

Just before COVID-19 descended, CP&GC members were discussing whether it was time to undertake a major revision of the garden. The perennial beds had become crowded. On the west side of the house, the last boxwoods had been removed along with the dogwood and climb-ing rose planted in the early 1960s. On the east side, far more shady than in the days when the Garden Club began working in the garden, only one fruit tree of the miniature orchard survived. The old chestnut tree along the front fence had been taken down after a long decline.

December 1, 2022 (Perennial beds, re-edged with new soil). Photo by Annette LaMond.

December 1, 2022 (Perennial beds, re-edged with new soil). Photo by Annette LaMond.

This October, club workers kicked off the garden renovation – timing that marks the 60th anniversary year of the club’s first project. A large number of perennials were removed from the perennial beds where some species had become overgrown and dominant, and defied the efforts of the club’s best weeders. Many of these perennials (asters, phlox, lamb’s ear, Japanese anemone, and speedwell) were then re-planted at two other club project sites: On The Rise women’s shelter in mid-Cambridge and the Cambridge Community Center in the Riverside neighborhood. The transplanting effort was followed by two days of welcome rain, increasing the odds that they will thrive in their new homes.

To reconstruct the HLN beds, the club hired Cambridge plantsman Michael Hanlon and his crew to remove the last and largest plants, some of which were salvaged, planted for later use in a holding bed behind the garage. The crew then removed six inches of soil to help with the eradication of invasives, and added a soil-compost mix. As significant as the soil improvement, they reduced the beds to more manageable size, straightening the front edge and rounding the corner to the screen porch. The beds have been covered with salt marsh hay for the winter.

December 2, 2022 (Beds covered with salt marsh hay for the winter). Photo by Annette LaMond.

December 2, 2022 (Beds covered with salt marsh hay for the winter). Photo by Annette LaMond.

Over the winter, while the new soil is rejuvenating the old, CP&GC members will be designing new perennial beds where native plants can be integrated with hybrids, adding habitat for birds and butterflies. In the spring we will be planting anew.

Also on the agenda: club members are looking at options for a new shade tree at the southwest corner of the property to replace the ancient horse chestnut. The type of tree is yet to be determined, but a top candidate is the magnificent and long-lived Quercus alba, the White Oak, one of the preeminent hardwoods native to eastern and central North America.

— Annette LaMond & Maggie Booz, December 2022

Sign taped to fence post abut the planting of sunflowers for UkrainePlanting Seeds of Peace and Beauty for Ukraine

In late February, Cantabrigians watched in horror as the Russians invaded Ukraine, but what can ordinary people do beyond sending donations to humanitarian organizations and writing to political leaders? A letter to the editor of the New York Times [March 10, 2022], suggested a visible statement: “Plant seeds of peace and beauty.” Specifically, plant sunflowers – millions of sunflowers in flower beds, front lawns, municipal spaces, and parks as a reminder of what is at stake.

CP&GC member adding compost to the sunflower plantings.The sunflower is the Ukrainian national flower – a flower that the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club embraced through a partnership with the Roxbury Sunflower Project and Prospect Hill Academy that began as a pandemic project in 2020.

Several club members discussed how the letter’s advice could be put into action, and contacted the City’s landscape administrator, Ellen Coppinger, about a central public location for a mass planting of sunflowers. Ellen suggested the borders of Flagstaff Park where sunflowers would not only be highly visible, but also bring the park’s roadside grass strip to life.

Within days, the Club’s executive committee approved funds to buy 500 sunflower plugs, and the City committed to order the plugs, prepare planting beds, and deploy the city’s watering truck through the summer.

Eight-inch sunflower seedlings grown by Nunan Florist and Greenhouse, a family business in Georgetown, Massachusetts, arrived in Cambridge in early June. On the morning of Saturday, June 4, twenty-three CP&GC members and friends mobilized to plant the young sunflowers. They added hundreds of sunflower seeds around the plugs along with mulch provided by the Cambridge DPW.

Stripe of sunflower planting in a row in Cambridge.

purple geranium flower among green leavesCP&GC Encourages Native Plant Population Growth in Cambridge

During the 2021-22 club year, the CP&GC’s Conservation Committee focused on the role that native plants can play in the city landscape. Once established, native plants provide food for birds, butterflies and insects. And more: they require less maintenance; they reduce carbon, heat, and noise; and they obviate the need for chemical pesticides. The question was how to spread this knowledge beyond plant enthusiasts already onboard.

Backyard native plant assembly operation, May 14, 2022

Backyard native plant assembly operation, May 14, 2022

The committee co-chairs had an idea – a plant sale run by high school students. They requested $2,000 from the club’s civic planting fund to purchase native plants to be sold – at cost – in conjunction with a Cambridge Rindge & Latin School student conservation club. Plants were selected with the advice of native plant experts from the club and other groups working to promote planting of pollinators, as well as from the city’s landscape administrator. Three plants were chosen for shady conditions: Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern Columbine); Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium); and Solidago caesia (Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod). Three plants for sunny conditions were: Echinacea purpurea (Coneflower), Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot or Violet Bee Balm) and Penstemon digitalis (Foxglove Beardtongue). For the sale, plugs were selected based on success rates and affordability. Three same-kind, one-year-old plugs were priced at $10.

To generate enthusiasm among Rindge students, the committee arranged for three native plant information presentations by two local native plant experts, who provided informative handouts about the featured plants and the general care of native plants. The students promoted the sale by poster, CRLS newsletter, and a sales table at the CRLS December play. To supplement paper order forms, they also created an online order form and database for tracking orders.

After the plugs were delivered, it was all hands on deck to construct a popup work space, assemble orders, track and distribute them, move boxes, deliver bags, and disassemble tables and tents. May 13-15, CRLS students and staffers, as well as a dozen CP&GC members, gathered in a member’s backyard to assemble orders for pickup and delivery.

Over the summer, the committee will be tracking customer experience. They hope that it points to a bigger and better native plant sale next year.

Sunflower photoCP&GC Partners with Roxbury Sunflower Project and Prospect Hill Academy

In 2020, with in-person activities and community outreach on hold due to the COVID lockdown, the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club (CP&GC) looked for novel ways to engage with the community and, specifically, with local students remotely, during the pandemic. The club’s hope was to inspire in students a closer connection with nature, public spaces, and knowledge of the plant world.

CP&GC members were inspired by Boston artist and community activist Ekua Holmes whose Roxbury Sunflower Project has planted hundreds of sunflowers in the historically Black neighborhood as symbols of hope, resilience, and empowerment. (In Spring 2021, Ms. Holmes expanded her sunflower planting with Elizabeth James-Perry, an Aquinnah Wampanoag artist, activist, and tribe member, on the grounds of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.) Together with Ms. Holmes, the club forged a partnership with the Prospect Hill Academy (PHA), one of the oldest and largest charter schools operating in Massachusetts. (PHA is a tuition-free, college preparatory school with a student body drawn from racially and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods.)

woman working in a sidewalk garden

CP&GC created an after-school curriculum for study of the sunflower, with a dynamic and diverse team, including Ms. Holmes, Carmen Mouzon from the Farm School, and Molly Edwards, a PhD candidate at Harvard University’s Kramer Lab and producer of the educational Science in Real Life (IRL) on YouTube. Eight lessons were held remotely during the winter of 2020–21 with a group of middle school girls. The sessions included looking at the sunflower through the lenses of art, botany, mathematics, farming, and social justice.

At the end of the program, the young women designed a garden full of sunflowers and other annuals to be planted in the spring when they could comfortably and safely meet outdoors. Happily, the team met in person in late May to plant that garden at the entrance of Prospect Hill Academy building in Cambridge. The results were enjoyed through the summer and the beginning of the school year, and we look forward to a continued partnership.

Cambridge Community Gardens Today

2020-21 Cambridge Community Gardens Today, a publication of the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club, shines a light on each of 14 Cambridge Community Gardens operating today across the City. In addition to a brief introduction and conclusion, four pages are dedicated to each garden, including a short history, an overview of what is grown, a sketch of the gardeners, and how the garden is managed. Multiple photographs include a drone shot showing each garden in its neighborhood location.

The project’s committee is deeply indebted to Cambridge Community Garden coordinator Jennifer Letourneau for her support and enthusiasm. We are very grateful to the garden coordinators and gardeners who opened their gardens to us and shared their stories. However, the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club is fully responsible for the content of this publication: errors, observations and opinions are solely our own.

Click here to download a PDF of the book. To view the book below at fullscreen, just click the small square-shaped icon found in bottom right corner on the playback panel:

Our Partner Organizations

Given the number of environmental challenges that we face today, CP&GC is increasingly looking to work with other groups in the community. Such groups include …

Blair Pond/Massachusetts Department of Recreation &
Conservation (DCR)

The Boston Committee of the GCA Blossom Fund

Cambridge Community Center

Charles River Watershed Association

Charles River Conservancy


Craigie Street Park/Cambridge DPW

Fresh Pond Reservation/Cambridge Water Department

Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation

Garden Club of America Founders Fund

Garden Club of America Scholarship Fund

Green Cambridge

Grow Native Massachusetts

Historic New England’s Cooper-Frost-Austin House

History Cambridge’s Hopper-Lee-Nichols House Garden

Friends of Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters

Longfellow Park/Cambridge DPW

Lowell Memorial Park/Massachusetts Department of Recreation & Conservation (DCR)

Magazine Beach Partners

Massachusetts Audubon Society

Massachusetts Department of Recreation & Conservation (DCR)

Massachusetts Horticultural Society–The Gardens at Elm Bank

Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery

Native Plant Trust (formerly New England Wild Flower Society)

Old Burying Ground/Cambridge DPW

Raymond Street Park/Cambridge DPW

Riverbend Park/Massachusetts Department of Recreation & Conservation (DCR)

Schlesinger Library

The Solomon Foundation (Greenough Greenway)

Tower Hill Botanic Garden

The Trustees of Reservations

For more information, please contact us at

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