Remarks by President Ginna Sermier for the Centennial Luncheon
June 15th 2015
June 15th 2015
On November 3rd, 1913, Mrs. Keyes Winter held a meeting at her house where she, Mrs. Harry Flagler, Mrs. John Morgan Wing, and Miss Laura Edwards decided to form a garden club. At a meeting held at Mrs. Wing’s house in Millbrook on January 26th, 1914, the club was officially founded. Mr. Cornell, Rector of Grace Church, presided. The goal, as stated in the constitution, was to ‘pursue horticultural interest and improvement’. New members were to be proposed to the Secretary in writing. One negative vote would disqualify an applicant from membership. Ten members and Mr. Cornell were at the first meeting.
At that meeting a resolution was passed to put a notice in the Millbrook Round Table of a lecture to be given in June at Memorial Hall, the Thorne building, on ‘trees and their care’, admission 25 cents.
The first Flower Show was held in September 1914.
The founding members of the club had as their aim, apart from gardening, an involvement in the wider community in an appreciation and preservation of the natural beauty of the area. The members’ commitment to those goals was so firm, and their enthusiasm so strong, that in 1915, the MGC became a member of the Garden Club of America.
One of the club’s favorite stories is of Vollmer Fries; the MGC’s first civic effort took place in 1915 and was a project involving children who were asked to collect the nests of tent caterpillars. A letter was sent to estate owners asking for permission for the children to work on their estate to find the caterpillar tents. Supervision of the contest was left to the Executive committee. The winner, a little boy named Vollmer Fries, collected 12,800 cases. Runners up were Edwin Strong with 10,000 and Charlotte Allen Most with 5,725. An amusing footnote to this story is that in the 1960’s one of the members was given a cup, found in an antiques store in Connecticut, that was inscribed Millbrook Garden Club. Further examination of the cup revealed that the name on the cup was that of the industrious little gentleman, Vollmer Fries, who had collected 12, 800 caterpillar cases. Thus, still in its first year, our club started a program which included both horticulture and conservation. This cup is now given by each President to a member who has done outstanding service and it is currently being shared by Annette Cloney and Joan Turnure.
In 1917, during the first World War, a canning committee became active. It took place in the kitchen of the Thorne Memorial High School. 3,410 jars of vegetables and fruit were canned in twenty working days. In 1919, soon after the war ended, and to celebrate the peace, the club conceived the idea of a small park for the village: the Tribute Garden. There a tree was planted for each person from the community who had served in the armed forces. The club assumed all the expenses of construction and provided a fund to guarantee future upkeep. This commitment continued until 1943. The land for the graden was donated by Oakleigh and Helen Thorne.
As of 1920 there were 64 members including 13 men.
At a 1925 meeting a member from Connecticut was elected: Mrs. Hatch of Cobble Pond Farm, currently the home of Kathy and Jay Metz. A few years later an amendment was passed allowing for members to live within a 40 mile radius. This provided us with the opportunity to have members from Ct., who now comprise half the membership of the club, mostly from Sharon and Lakeville.
In the 1930’s Mrs. Thorne, past president of the club, provided the financial and organizational leadership to California’s Save the Redwoods League and subsequently, the first grove of trees was dedicated to her.
The MGC participated in the World’s Fair in 1939. During the second World War, the archives mention ‘We miss our members from the Hudson River and many others have limited their attendance at meetings to fit the gas ration coupons and to conserve tires. There have been no flower shows, no visiting of distant gardens but plenty of time to pull the weeds and pick vegetables. Perhaps because of this some have learned to appreciate their gardens more.
The GCA was instrumental in the establishment of the National Arboretum. In May, 1949, Angela Place personally gave a check to Pres. Truman for the National Arboretum. Mrs. Place was President of the Millbrook Garden Club and president of the GCA from 1947 to 1950.
Following World War II, an impressive series of events were sponsored by the MGC. The continuing concerns of the club have been enriched by varying emphases: children’s gardening in the early days, vegetables and canning in wartime, the floral bounty of professional gardeners in the days of the big estates, slowly followed by members who enjoyed hands on gardening. In recent decades the club has focused more on Flower Shows and Conservation.
In 1966 the club took over the maintenance and replanting of the Sharon Audubon Society’s Herb Garden. Mrs. Clement Ford was a member of MGC and she and her husband donated the property to the National Audubon Society. The Herb Garden was designed and planted and has been a MGC civic project ever since.
In more recent years we have taken fascinating garden tours, to the Cotswolds, to Newport, and to the Brandywine area, and throughout the Hudson Valley and Connecticut. We recently hosted a Zone III Meeting, and enjoyed many wonderful events, one that comes to mind was the very well attended lecture given by Frank Cabot. Also recently members of the club have developed an avid interest in Photography. In 2013, Arete Warren, Chair of GCA’s Library Committee, organized a show of rare books at the Grolier Club.
We are all so grateful for the intelligent, talented and hard working women, and a few good men, whom we have had as members over the years, and for the friendships that have developed.
In 1937, Mrs. Renee DuPont Donaldson moved to Millbrook and designed her garden, Deep Hollow Farm, featuring a collection of native ‘wild’ plants’. She gave many lectures encouraging others to use native plants in their gardens; in her 1965 presentation at Longwood, home of her cousin Henry DuPont, Mrs. Donaldson stated: ‘The development of a plant’s life from seedling to flower, to its climax of producing fruit and setting seed, is a thrilling drama…for death and decay are not tragedies in a plants’ world but essential factors in the cycle of its life. So, when gardening, as each season brings the annual promise of eternal change, eternal developments and eternal life, I am given a glimpse of infinity and am lead to a perception of an awareness of the might, majesty, and glory of our Creator’.
At the Flower show in June I told you that I hoped that at the celebration of the club’s Bicentennial the future members of the MGC would stop and think of us and what we accomplished. Today I think it’s important that we stop and think of the members who have gone before us. It is their path and leadership that has made the MGC what it is today. And while the decades have each brought changes in society the theme of the club has never varied…horticulture, flower arranging, a strong emphasis on conservation, visiting gardens, an appreciation of the history of garden design, and a special focus on civic contribution. They set the pace for the club and we have followed it.
Happy Centennial, Millbrook Garden Club!