CHATHAM – In 1968, two and a half years after Lady Bird Johnson initiated her national beautification program, the women of the newly-formed Chatham Garden Club began to beautify Chatham by planting flowers, ornamental grasses and flowering trees.
Armed with trowels, gardening gloves and watering cans, the women tended plantings in traffic islands and window boxes. And half a century later, garden club members are still beautifying Chatham. Today club members plant and maintain 11 spots around town.
The Chatham Garden Club will celebrate its 50th anniversary on April 17 with a talk by master gardener C.L. Fornari. Fornari, known as “the garden lady,” hosts a Saturday morning radio show called Gardenline and has written several books on gardening. The talk is open to the public.
One morning last week club president Marilyn Sink and former president Ruth Lund met at the home of another former president, Bette Hahner, to reminisce about the club.
In the beginning, the club was very different. Women dressed up to attend the monthly meetings. Crustless sandwiches were served and both coffee and tea were poured from silver pots.
“We used to set up beautiful tables,” Lund says, speaking of when she joined the club in the 1990s. “The food they used to bring in was unreal.”
In the early years, if you missed two meetings you were asked to leave the club. Membership was initially restricted to 50, with others waiting to join. But bylaws were changed, and at its height in the 1990s the club boasted about 250 members. Today there are about 125.
And these days, while sandwiches and dessert are still served, members make their own coffee from little packets. Gone is the formal silver service.
Through the years a few men wandered into the club. These included a florist and the husband of a master gardener, and they were either full members or came to hear a few speakers. But for the most part the club has remained all female.
The club is a non-profit organization, and among its missions is the awarding of an annual scholarship of $2,500 to a graduate of Monomoy Regional High School who is majoring in horticulture or a related field.
While maintaining gardens such as those at the Sears Park Memorial Triangle and at Oyster Pond Beach, the group works with the town to obtain mulch and have clippings removed. And while some sites have water spigots, others are dry and must be irrigated with water the women haul to the site.
Like all volunteer work, keeping up the town’s gardens can be tough, but it’s rewarding.
When she retired to Chatham, Hahner said, “It’s my time to give back to the community.” The garden club has been one way she has done so.
And as well as hearing speakers and doing serious gardening, the group socializes at events such as Cinco de Mayo parties and luncheons. Sink hosted a party for new members at her home. Listening to the three women reminiscing, you understand that over the past 50 years many strong friendships have been forged over a trowel and a crustless sandwich.
Fornari will speak on spring preparations for the garden including pruning and storm repair on Tuesday, April 17 at 1 p.m. in the large meeting room at the community center. Refreshments will be served beforehand, at noon. The event is free and open to the public.