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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

woman working in a sidewalk gardenCP&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.)

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.

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.