NOTE ON GARDEN CLUBS
"Have we progressed in gardening?" asks Doctor Wilhelm Miller in "Country Life in America"; and then proceeds to show that, while deprecating all boastfulness on our part, we have certainly made great strides as to the amount and the quality of our horticultural growth in the last ten years. Doctor Miller adds columns of interesting details to prove his assertion. In a single inconspicuous line occur these words: "First women's clubs devoted to gardening." Insufficient emphasis, it seemed and seems to me, to lay upon the sight of this organization of garden clubs now proceeding with such amazing rapidity. To those to whom the art of gardening is dear, to all heart-felt gardeners, a significance of the very highest order attaches itself at once to the spectacle of these clubs rising in every direction in our land — a significance which is really a prophecy, a promise of beauty.
If the Garden Club of Philadelphia is, as I believe it to be, the first of its kind to come into being in this country, then it is one of the greatest horticultural benefactors America has seen, and in time to come many gardeners will rise up and call it blessed. To some people it may seem that the art of gardening is too gentle, too delicate, to admit of its devotees' submission to rules made by ordered groups; on the other hand, it is a complex art; and now so popular a pursuit that I do not exaggerate when I say that there has been a suspicion of midsummer madness in the way in which garden clubs have been springing up month by month in the years just past. A deep, persistent, and growing interest in gardening seems to have suddenly crystallized in this charming and most practical fashion, with the result that fifty or more of these organizations, varying in size and form, are now in existence. Offshoots of these clubs seem to be multiplying as rapidly as bulblets from a good gladiolus in a fair season.
It is not the fault of the garden clubs that they have a distinctly social side. Gardening at its highest can best be carried on by men and women of high intelligence, taste, experience, and — alas that it must be said! — the wherewithal. With the true gardener this money question, however, is the last, least requisite, for who that deeply loves a garden does not know that qualities most rare and fine shine out oftenest through the flowers of small and simple gardens? It is, I have sometimes compassionately thought, more difficult for a richer man to achieve his heart's desire in gardening than for a poorer one. Many are the conventional obstacles to gardening raised in the path of the owners of great gardens.
The Garden Club of Philadelphia was, I believe, the first of its kind in this country. It is now twelve years of age. It has, in these twelve years, had no change in the offices of president and secretary; and it has been the active agent in the organization of many other clubs of a like nature. This society has perhaps fifty members. It meets weekly from the middle of April to the first of July; twice in September, and has besides three winter meetings; all "for pleasure and profit." A paper is read at each meeting on a seasonable topic, the club studying, besides, plants, fertilizers, insecticides, fungi, birds, bees, and moths, quality of soils, climate, and so on, care of house-plants, trees, and shrubs. The club has visited the gardens of Mount Vernon, Hampton near Baltimore, Princeton, Trenton, and many gardens at Bar Harbor. Specialists on horticultural subjects have from time to time addressed them. In the club's library are more than one hundred papers prepared by members. Their activities extend beyond their own limits in several directions, notably toward the movement made by the Society for the Protection of Native Plants.
Now, as to the age of the garden clubs other than the Philadelphia I am not informed. In the following mention of them, therefore, I shall not undertake to give any one club precedence, but shall first take up the Garden Club of Ann Arbor, Michigan, because of its liberal use of the letter A! This club is unique in its ultra-democratic policy. Whereas the Garden Club of Cleveland, in two gentle sentences of its rules and regulations, remarks that "eligibility to membership in this club is limited to: A. Those who are fortunate possessors of gardens of unusual perfection. B. Those who plan and develop personally and enthusiastically gardens of their own design" — the Garden Club of Ann Arbor declares that only he or she shall enter their ranks who is possessed of "an active personal enthusiasm and working interest in one's garden," and follows this with the rigid exclusion of all others in this explicit language: "Only amateurs doing individual practical work in their own gardens or yards are eligible for active membership in the club." An interesting question here presents itself. Were this a discursive article, I should be tempted to set forth my reasons for believing that the Cleveland Club has the best of it!
The Garden Club of Cleveland, of which mention has just now been made, has this fine sentence in its charter: "The purpose for which this corporation is formed is to cultivate the spirit of gardening in its fullest sense, together with an appreciation of civic beauty and betterment in and about Cleveland." No mean ambition here; though, as their secretary says, their aspirations are far more numerous as yet than their experiences! Seventy-seven names are upon the roster of this club. The meetings are in summer weekly, in winter monthly. Mr. Charles Platt has spoken at one of these on formal gardening, a lecture on peonies has been had, and the prizes are already offered for this summer's flowers, one for a rose contest.
New Canaan, Connecticut, has, it would appear, the largest membership of the garden clubs. It carries the name of its dwelling-place and shows a membership of about two hundred — all this within three years of life! In each of these years an exhibition of flowers has been held, with none but professionals as judges. This powerful club has helped several other similar societies to come into being, and is a member of the Plant, Fruit, and Flower Guild, assisting that organization in its work.
It may be that the Garden Association of Newport might be called the most ambitious of the newly formed gardening societies, as may be seen by mentioning in order its objects. These are: "First: To increase the knowledge of owners of gardens in Newport by means of lectures and practical talks in the garden during the summer months by well-known authorities on trees, lawns, roses, hardy flowers, perennial borders, and so on. Second: To provide a corresponding secretary who will keep the association in touch with the development of new ideas and improvements in the varieties of flowers among the seedsmen and gardeners of France, Germany, and the East. Third: To establish a bureau where the seeds of novelties from abroad can be obtained. Fourth: To develop by means of illustrated lectures on the gardens of England, Italy, and other countries more art, individuality, sentiment, and variety in the planting of flowers, shrubs, and so forth. Fifth: To increase the practical knowledge of the care of trees and plants by demonstrating the methods used in Europe in the cultivation of flowers, fruit, and vegetables, and in forestry."
Objects, these, most excellent, and most excellently set forth. In my judgment the Newport association is right; we still must go abroad to find most of that which is highest and best in gardening. This remark may provoke criticism. It is still true. The fine gardens, the great arboreta (with the exception of our own Arnold Arboretum, whose dollar bulletins no garden club should fail to het and read), the most perfect use of trees, shrubs, and flowers, are not yet found generally in this country. And the sooner incisive suggestions, such as these of the Newport association, wake us to a sense of what we have not, and where we should go to find it, the better for us. On the other hand, the library of the Newport society seems wofully behind, in that it has no books but English books, and that those, indeed, seem to me to be more the suggestions of an English gardener or superintendent than of the fine English amateur. Six books wanting from this list, some English and some American, are "in my foolish opinion" indispensable to the serious amateur in this country, the gardener whose one desire is to call forth true beauty from the earth.
The Newport association has had lectures or talks during the summer of 1912 on the subjects of soil, the art of planting, and roses. No object-lesson in the advancement of gardening could be more effective than that of the decision of these dwellers in Newport — some of them possessors of as fine gardens as America has to show — no object-lesson could be better than their admission that still they need to learn; that their gardens, some of them considered practically perfect, still need contributions from the charming flowers and plants of that older world beyond the Atlantic.
The Shedowa Garden Club, of Garden City, New York, has for president and secretary two whose brains are never idle in working for a progressive policy for their club. (Shedowa is an Iroquois word meaning Great Plains.) Their fifty-odd members meet about every fortnight. They have had several authorities address them during their first year's existence, they have already a library of forty volumes, and they have taken much interest in improving the flower exhibit at the Nassau County Fair. The president of the club is now exerting herself to get the various plantsmen and seeds-men of the country to adopt the fine color chart of Doctor Robert Ridgway, "Color Standards and Color Nomenclature."
From an account of this club by its secretary I quote:
"The management of the Shedowa Club is entirely in the hands of the executive committee. The membership is not limited; the dues are smaller than those of the average garden club, and men of the community are admitted as associates (since they cannot attend afternoon meetings) for a still smaller fee. The club is an all-the-year-round one, with meetings each month, and an occasional extra talk. The speakers and their expenses, prizes (except for four cups offered at each large flower show by members and not permitted to exceed two dollars and fifty cents in price), and, in fact, all expenses, are paid from the club treasury. An entrance fee for members, and admission to non-members, are charged at the spring and fall shows, and occasionally a small admission fee is charged to non-members for some of the illustrated lectures; but, as a rule, non-members are invited as guests; and no admission fee is ever charged to members except for the shows. Neither fee nor admission is charged for the little shows at meetings. Members are never assessed beyond their annual dues."
At Short Hills, New Jersey, is a small but vigorous garden club, with so informal an organization that there is no officer but the president. Membership here is limited; but meetings are frequent, in summer as frequent as once a week, "thus enabling us," to quote a member, "to watch carefully the development of color schemes and artistic planting, so enthusiastically started in the previous season; and to note the growth of plants tried in our locality for the first time." The writer further remarks upon the incentive established by the frequency of meetings — and that in time of failure the meetings prove a consolation as well. The Short Hills Club has also for several years had dahlia shows. In this short account the most excellent suggestions are interesting novelties in plants, a subject which always touches one nearly, and an exhibition devoted to a particular flower.
The Garden Club of Trenton, New Jersey, with a membership of twenty-four, is limited to twenty-five. (One cannot help envying that twenty-fifth member!) It holds its regular meetings on the second Monday of each month, with an extra meeting sometimes on the fourth Monday. The letter of the Trenton club's secretary is so beguiling that I yield to the temptation to quote a part of it verbatim — "We started our club a year ago, and being perfectly overrun with clubs and rather tired of them, we have tried to make it as unclublike as possible. It has been the greatest success. We have had delightful meetings, with papers and talks by our own members. We have had two days in the country with the wild flowers, which were intensely enjoyed. Those who were able went to a lecture by Hugo de Vries, at Princeton; and in the spring some of us visited the garden planned by the late Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, doubtless one of the most beautiful smaller gardens in this part of the country. During the summer a number of meetings were held at the seashore, where most of the members had come together and studied the flowers of the coast, both wild and cultivated. Some of our topics are: `Flowers in Mythology and History,' `The Christmas Tree,' Evergreens from Prehistoric Ages to our Gardens,' Orchids, Wild and Cultivated,' English Gardens,' `French Gardens,' Italian Gardens,' `Kew and Its Research Work,' Flowers in Poetry,' Insect Pests,' `The Hardy Border,"Roses,"Bulbs'; and always we have practical discussion for the last hour." The range of suggestion here set forth is remarkable, and, if I am not mistaken, the enthusiasm warming every word of this short letter will affect others who may read it here, as it has already affected me.
The Garden Club of Lenox, Massachusetts, has the great good luck to exist where backgrounds, both near and far, are pictures; where planting, however little, cannot fail to be telling. Disadvantages may exist. Frost surely arrives too soon; soil on those glorious hillsides may be scarce; yet where every prospect is one of beauty, the stimulus toward the creation of beauty must be unique. Add to this the fact that for at least a year a painter and sculptor was their president, and could the most eager garden club ask for more?
In this club men and women are again associated. The membership is limited to one hundred and twenty-five, and has, I fancy, barely reached that number. Regular meetings are held on the first Mondays of July, August, September, and October. Two novel and highly interesting sections occur in the by-laws of the Lenox Garden Club. The first is this: "On the third Monday in June, July, August, and September there shall be meetings of the officers and council for the closer study of gardens and gardening problems and the general management of the club. All eligible to the council must do manual work in their gardens, and bring to the meetings, twice during the season, interesting specimens of plants, blights, or insects, giving their personal experience with them."
The second follows and concerns a plant exchange: "Members having plants to exchange or give away may send a postal giving names and quality to the recorder. Members desiring plants may send in applications in the same manner. The recorder shall keep a list of both and shall bring the same to all meetings, that members may refer to it."
The younger clubs naturally profit by such wise arrangements and suggestions as these. Thus it is not strange to see rules on these general lines in the book of the Garden Club of Long Island, whose membership seems to centre about Lawrence and which, though in existence only since September of 1912, has the astonishing membership "already yet so soon," as an old German gardener of my acquaintance was wont to say, of ninety-one! This club meets twice a month in summer. Miss Rose Standish Nichols has spoken to them on "Gardens," Miss Averill on "Japanese Flower Arrangement," and Miss Coffin on "Color and Succession in the Flower Garden."
Returning again to the Middle West, we have the Garden Club of Cincinnati, which, to quote from a recent letter, "limits its membership to thirty."
"The By-Laws read rather insistently upon its members being active workers in their gardens, although there are included a small number of associate and honorary members. From its inception the greatest enthusiasm has been shown by the members of this club, whose meetings are held fortnightly during most of the year. Lectures by professionals have been given and papers read by the members. The bulletins have been most interesting, and the exhibitions have embraced displays ;of all sorts of bulbs, forced and outdoor grown, roses, delphiniums, iris, dahlias, cosmos, chrysanthemums, and floral arrangements for different occasions. These exhibitions have been accompanied by debates and prizes have been awarded.
"The last dahlia show was given in the pergola of the Zoological Gardens and was on a large scale. Thousands of blooms were shown by amateur and professional growers.
"One of the important aims of this dub has been to beautify the city and adjacent country roads. Ten thousand pink ramblers have been planted, and seeds and bulbs are being scattered along the rural ways.
"Meetings have been held with the botany class of the university, and the dub now hopes, with encouragement, to establish a chair in gardening at this institution.
"The orifiamme of the Garden Club of America is also carried by the Garden Club of Cincinnati, and it further aims to put Botticelli foregrounds in all of Cincinnati's landscapes."
Now for the club in which I am most at home — the Garden Club of Michigan. This was patterned mainly upon that of Philadelphia, and I here acknowledge with renewed gratitude our debt to that organization, which was most gracious in its assistance; and to the New Canaan Garden Club, also a friend in need. Our club, like the Philadelphia, has sixty members. We have had, during our first year's existence, seventeen meetings, with lectures upon such subjects as roses, new flowers, gardens of England, garden books, color in the garden, the making of an old-fashioned garden, the grouping of shrubs, and the planning and planting of home grounds. " We have learned," writes our secretary, "much about gardens, gardeners, and gardening; also that even garden clubs do not grow of themselves!"
For our club I have prepared from time to time a list of color combinations in flowers, simple ones, easily produced — a list of my own preferences in seedsmen and plantsmen, including specialists in this country and abroad, drawn from dealings of twenty years past. If a seedsman sends me a specially good sheet of cultural directions for a given flower, I do not hesitate to beg at once for sixty for our next meeting. Little piles of these things on the secretary's table do wonders in shortening the hard road .to good gardening. We have, as a club, joined two or three plant societies, and during the coming year we hope to help in some public horticultural improvement in Detroit, for in that city lies the balance of our membership. The annual dues of our club, which were two dollars, have now been raised to five. The dues of the various clubs average this sum; though in one club the subscription is fifteen. In all clubs the meetings are held, as a rule, in the houses or gardens of members.
Expeditions are undertaken by some of the clubs — journeys to fine gardens, public or private. This is as it should be. In England it is a common sight, that of horticultural societies going about, en masse, forty or fifty strong, inspecting gardens. Many of these must knock daily at Miss Jekyll's "close-paled hand-gate." I would suggest to members on the eastern seaboard that they avail themselves of the beauties of the Arnold Arboretum in lilac time, or in mid-June — and never without a note-book, for, as at Kew, every tree and shrub is labelled to perfection.
Other clubs there are of which mention should be made, as the Garden Club of Warrenton, Virginia, an offshoot of the Philadelphia Club; the Garden Club of Princeton, New Jersey; "The Weeders," of Haverford, Pennsylvania; the club at New Rochelle, New York; one forming at San Antonio, Texas; indeed, at the time of writing, the whole number of clubs known to me in this country is forty-nine! Twenty-six of these have combined to form the Garden Club of America (founded by the Garden Club of Philadelphia), whose honorary president was the late Mrs. C. Stuart Patterson, and whose president is Mrs. J. Willis Martin. The stated objects of this society are: "To stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs, to share the advantages of association through conference and correspondence in this country and abroad, to aid in the protection of native plants and birds, and to encourage civic planting." In "American Homes and Gardens," August, 1914, appears an article on the association, by Mrs. Arthur H. Scribner, written with sympathy and charm.
The best-garden club is doubtless yet to be formed; it can now be a composite. It will adopt the more important and practical plans of those already in existence; it may start with the benefit of their experience. Existing clubs are already recognized, reference to our gardening journals shows, as powerful factors for the right development of horticulture in America. May their tribe increase.