Garden Club is a community 'gem'
New Milford organization celebrates its 90th year
Updated 9:35 pm, Wednesday, April 3, 2013
New Milford is known for its New England charm and beauty.
The Garden Club of New Milford has long played a part in bringing some of that beauty to town and enhancing its existing beauty.
The club has for 90 years cultivated conservation efforts, offered horticultural and educational programs and provided funding for plants and support to numerous organizations.
"It's our way of caring for our town," said Sally Milligan, club president and a 13-year member.
"It's been 90 years and we're still caring for the town."
To celebrate the milestone, a variety of programs are slated and a special exhibit is planned at the New Milford Historical Society.
From the decorated Christmas tree on the bandstand on the Village Green to the willow trees planted along the Housatonic River on Young's Field Road, from the flowering pear trees in downtown New Milford to daffodils near Lover's Leap State Park, from the rolling hillsides of iris planted along Route 202 in the early to mid-1900s to the "300" made of marigolds planted all over town for the town's tricentennial in 2007, the club has been instrumental in enhancing the town's beauty.
"They do an incredible job on and off the Green, taking care of most of the flower beds in town on town property," said Park & Recreation Director Dan Calhoun.
"They do a beautiful job," he added. "It helps us immensely because we don't have the time and man power. They're a gem."
Ann Stone, a club member since 1974 who is the chairwoman of the ways and means and civic/town gardens committees, and a past three-term president and an honorary member, describes the club as a "group of people coming together for friendship and an interest in conservation, and who like to have their hands in the dirt and enjoy flower arranging."
Resident Helen Applebaum, who joined the club after reading about its activities in the Greater New Milford Spectrum and a club discussion about stonewalls, said she appreciates the group's community outreach and expertise in horticulture and conservation.
"There's a variety of activity," she said. "It's not just a group of people getting together to chit-chat."
The club, a charter member of the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut Inc., offers its members a chance to meet others with similar interests, engage in conversation, attend workshops and programs about a variety of topics, participate in local and state flower shows, and share their talents around town through numerous ongoing projects.
The club's educational component can also give a boost of confidence, according to Milligan.
She said in recent years she made 11 table decorations for an outdoor summer wedding. She only had to buy a few roses and used plant material from her own yard.
"I never thought I could do that, like a florist would do," she said, citing the benefits of the flower arranging programs the club has offered.
Stone agreed. She added that, by attending the club's programs "you come away with a feeling there's something new you can do in your yard."
Guest speakers and members offer "new ideas on how to use flowers in your own house and how to make the most out of plant material," Stone noted.
Consider a bouquet of flowers from a retail store. "Sure, it's pretty but you can do so much more with it," Milligan said.
Applebaum cited members' and guest speakers' vast knowledge in their field, and the opportunity for questions and sharing at meetings.
Programs are open to the public. Some are free, while there is a donation for others.
Milligan and Stone cited some of the gardening and plant tips shared for which the public might not be aware, such as the negative effects of mixing certain flowers -- like daffodils -- with other flowers, how to make poppies last longer, as well as how to transplant, divide and prune plants.
Over the years, membership has ebbed and flowed but activities have remained constant.
During the 1970s and '80s, the 60 to 100 members focused on garden therapy at nursing homes, live flower arranging, plantings around buildings in town, gardens at the hospital and garden tubs on the Village Green.
Unfortunately, the economy dipped during the 1990s and many people who had time to volunteer with the club went back to work, thus membership declined.
Since 2000, with a membership of less than 50, the club remains active in the community.
"I think people don't have as much time to do gardening," said Stone, who until August of 2012 worked at Cobble Hill Farm in the Upper Merryall section of New Milford.
The club is planning for a website in the near future.
Among the projects the club would like to reenergize is the Edgar Williams Colonial Garden at the historical society.
Stone, who joined Pal Ferris in creating the garden in the 1970s, recalls a Roman Catholic cardinal who in the 1980s commented the garden was one of the most peaceful gardens he had seen.
With a limited budget --the club's only fundraiser is an annual plant sale in May -- the club still finds a way to brighten the community with plants and support numerous causes.
Throughout its history, it has made donations for the purchase of various bulbs, shrubs and other greens for projects in town; supported the Connecticut Science Center, the Audubon Society and other groups; donated books and films on greens, flowers, design and conservation to the library; and made wreaths and other decorations for the New Milford Historical Society, the New Milford Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice, Ann's Place in Danbury and other groups, some of which have used the items for auctions.
Monies to do such projects comes from the plant sale and dues, which are $30 the first year and $25 per year thereafter.