History of the Litchfield Garden Club
On September 9, 1913, the initial meeting of the Litchfield Garden Club was held at the Lindens on North Street, home of the Misses Edith and Alice Kingsbury. Nine Litchfield women were present with three others who were interested but unable to attend.
Mrs. S. Edson Gage, who led the meeting, had a home on West Morris Road, which she and her husband used on weekends and summers. They came from out of town like many other residents at that time to enjoy getting away from cities like New York and New Haven. Mr. Gage was a society architect who designed homes in several towns and the Litchfield Playhouse here in Litchfield. The Playhouse was on the site of the current Litchfield Town Hall. Mrs. Gage’s sister, president of a garden club in New Jersey, spoke about how to form a garden club and also reported on the new national organization that had been formed called The Garden Club of America. The ladies decided that day to form a club with dues of $2.00!
Officers elected were President Mrs. Gage, Vice President Mrs. Charles Curtis, Treasurer Mrs. Henry Monroe and Miss Alice Kingsbury as Secretary. It was decided to name the club Litchfield Garden Club. The Executive Committee was made up of the above four officers, and meetings were held on Tuesdays every other week from May to October. Each member was to select a plant or plants for study and outside speakers would be invited to speak at meetings.
In June 1914, it was voted to increase the membership of the club to 15 members — and so Litchfield Garden Club’s roots and membership began to spread and grow. That month the ladies visited Miss Alice Wolcott’s garden to inspect eight varieties of Iris. In the following months membership rose to 25, honorary members were appointed and they had their first fundraiser, raising $250.00 at a Red Cross sale (this is the era of WWI) and dues were raised to $3.00. As the club’s roots and commitment grew, as its membership increased, the tree of the Litchfield Garden Club began to grow branches and the ladies began not only to learn more about horticulture and gardening, but accomplished their first civic project in conjunction with the Village Improvement Society. $10.00 was spent for plantings at the Litchfield train station on Russell Street.
Their first Annual Meeting was held on September 22, 1914, where the year’s expenses were reported at $39.80! Programs were planned for 1915, which included: pruning, roses, bulbs, gladioli, birds, color charts and planning for the planting of the Railroad station. Fifty shrubs were subsequently planted on the Railroad grounds.
In June 1915, Mrs. Gage was able to affiliate Litchfield Garden Club with The Garden Club of America and she most generously paid the first year’s club dues to The Garden Club of America herself. And so began our long affiliation with The Garden Club of America.
Litchfield Garden Club sponsored their first flower show in conjunction with the Litchfield Grange in 1915. In August 1915, the Garden Club of America offered their clubs “seed for sale from fine old English gardens to raise money for the war sufferers.” The club held a flower and plant show, raising $5.14. Beatrix Farrand, famous landscape architect of the day when women were not in the workplace, was secured for a program on August 4th and $30.00 was raised from her lecture.
July 9, 1916 was a defining meeting for the Litchfield Garden Club. After a program on roses, the members were asked to state whether they wished to accept luncheon invitations and become a social club, or remain an active working organization. A standing vote was taken in favor of remaining an active working club and this resolution was recorded in the club’s minutes. A constitution and bylaws were written and distributed and thus, the Litchfield Garden Club was officially on its way!
1917 saw the club involved in war efforts as Mrs. Gage urged members to “vigorous efforts of food production and larger crops of winter vegetables” and there was an official committee formed, The Garden Club Auxiliary to the Farm Bureau, which cooperated in efforts to raise vegetables. Flower shows became yearly events and in 1919, Litchfield Garden Club purchased the “Lawn Club” and renamed it “The Playhouse.” This was to be used by Litchfield as “a permanent place of amusement in the village.”
By 1920 the club was offering scholarship aid to students attending an agricultural school — now we sponsor White Memorial Foundation classes plus The Garden Club of America and Federated Scholarships. Mrs. Gage was made a Director of The Garden Club of America in 1921, the first honor of this kind to be bestowed on a Litchfield Garden Club member.
In 1921, active membership was limited to 30 and dues were up to $7.00. Each year slides were taken of members’ gardens and these are part of the June exhibit at the Oliver Wolcott Library. They are also on file at the Smithsonian Museum.
The flower show in 1922, reported Miss Edith Kingsbury, was a success “Financially as well as socially” — 225 people attended, with 73 flower arrangement entries — 25 from outside the Litchfield Garden Club with profit of $113.83, while a two-day plant sale netted $290.00.
As the years passed, the Litchfield Garden Club continued work with school gardens, the Railroad station, Library, wild flower garden at the White Memorial Foundation (paying $1.00 to lease the land for 10 years), tree planting and wild flower posters were placed in the Litchfield and Torrington movie houses.
In 1937, the Litchfield Garden Club joined the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut, a state organization under the aegis of what is now called National Garden Clubs, Inc. This enabled us to continue to broaden our contacts locally and to become better informed on state issues.
In 1947 with the war over, members were happy to pick-up where they had left off in the difficult years. A flower show was held at the Tapping Reeve House, and garden flowers and wildflowers were arranged in the 18th century manner. Joseph Downes, head of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, attended the show and subsequently advised the New Haven Garden Club on a similar show.
In 1954 we planted troughs on Norfolk Road, and four classes of membership were established — Active, Associate, Honorary, and Provisional.
1955 was the 43rd anniversary of the Litchfield Garden Club and the program included the History of the Litchfield Garden Club and slides of old Litchfield gardens were shown. Plantings were done at the Oliver Wolcott Library, Historical Society and traffic islands. Books were donated to the Library, a practice we continue today.
In 1957 we started our Civic Fund and raised $800.00 with a Kitchen Tour and Christmas Sale, the proceeds to go for planting at the new Litchfield High School. By 1958 we were doing flower arranging at the library weekly, and planting town window boxes. Members made flower arrangements for the CJR Open House Day. Priscilla Liggett and Eileen Greene FitzHugh studied trees for planting North and South Streets and began the effort to get Litchfield designated as a Historic District. This was accomplished in 1959.
Tree planting has always been a major focus of our club. Over the years maples, birch, and shadblow have been planted, and in 1960 the original 13 sycamores were replaced on North and South Streets. Elm trees were falling to Dutch Elm Disease at that time and replanting was essential. Over 12 elms were replanted by the Litchfield Garden Club and the town, but were lost again to disease over the next years. In 1963 there were over 400 elms on public property in town, but they were dying by 20% a year.
In 1966 we became a year-round club and the Litchfield Garden Club held an Attic Antiques Auction. 370 items were auctioned netting a profit of $5,690.00.
The 60’s went by, 25 more elms were planted,13 sycamores, lindens, oak, 10-white pines, 2 mountain ash, and 5 pin oaks — some of these were in front of then new shopping plaza (now Stop and Shop).
In the 70’s the Litchfield Garden Club hired a Boston firm, Visions, Inc., to plan three phases for our Town Green restoration — the goals: 1. To increase the tree canopy, 2. Relocate the tourist booth, and 3. Do an archaeological excavation to locate original sites of the Congregational Church, School, Court House, etc. Several members participated in the first Earth Day Parade organized to focus attention on ecological problems. Members were still planting and maintaining gardens at the Tapping Reeve House in the Howe garden. Planting was done in Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, street trees were pruned and fertilized and in 1975 we had our first House Tour called “Six Days of Christmas” followed two years later with another. The Preview, tour and box lunch made $6,000.00 and $9,500.00 respectively. It was suggested the profits be used for what? -tree planting, of course!
Fungus was attacking the sycamores — 12 more were planted, 89 dead elms were removed from the town and our Action Plan for the Green became even more important as a guide to planning and planting.
The ‘80’s saw club sweepstakes established in horticulture and design. We celebrated our 75th anniversary with a June event titled Diamond Jubilee and had over 550 guests on our tour. We continued to carry out civic projects: landscaping at the Court House, planting daffodils with CJR boys and Brownies, Middle School Outreach Program, benches and lighting for the Green, trees at Center School and the Bantam Borough Hall, maple trees and fencing at Community Field.
In the final decade of the last century there was further study and implementation of the Visions, Inc. Plan. A tree inventory was taken, many trees were planted and the Treescape Plan was born. A butterfly garden was designed and planted at the White Memorial Foundation. The Club received a national grant from America the Beautiful Foundation in recognition of the fine work that we do in the community.
Now, in the 21st century as we continue to grow, the members of the Litchfield Garden Club will continue their commitment to the community, to good growing, to conservation and preservation of our natural landscape and to appreciation of artistry in landscape design and flower arrangement.