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Newtown’s garden clubs have deep roots in the town’s soil. The seeds they plant grow more than just flowers, shrubs, and vegetables; they produce a feeling of community for so many residents.
In this third and final installment of a mini-series, each local gardening club shines light on the many ways they dedicate their time, energy, and green thumbs to providing Newtown’s public spaces with extra blooms of beauty.
The Garden Club Of Newtown
After retiring, Bethel resident Peggy Townsend found she had more time on her hands to pursue the projects she loves.
“I’ve always done gardening and flower arranging, and the two just kind of went together,” Ms Townsend said.
Despite not living in town, a friend of hers encouraged her to join The Garden Club of Newtown, and after attending her first meeting she found “everyone was so lovely, I had to join.”
That was nearly three years ago, and today she has completed the first half of her two-year term as club president.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Ms Townsend said.
Established in 1955, The Garden Club of Newtown is affiliated with a number of local and national groups, including The Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut, Inc; The New England Region of NGC; and The National Garden Clubs, Inc.
The club’s mission statement says it was created “to inspire interest in horticulture and artistic design, to support conservation of natural resources, and to promote civic beauty.”
It showcases these ideals with the many locations in town that the club is in charge of beautifying throughout the year.
Tucked away behind the Matthew Curtiss House at 44 Main Street is a garden meticulously designed by the garden club to replicate historical plant life from 1750 to 1850.
Garden Club of Newtown member Holly Kocet approached her group, as well as Newtown Historical Society, in the autumn 2010 to see about refurbishing the space for her master gardener project. She hoped to bring the area back to what it would have looked like in Colonial times.
The following spring, club members planted the herb garden and the building’s surrounding greenery. They continue to maintain it for the historical society to this day.
All the plants were researched extensively by Ms Kocet and Garden Club of Newtown member Joyce DeWolfe to accurately reflect a typical Colonial dooryard garden. Their garden layout was later put into a brochure for those interesting in seeing the garden’s detailed design.
The brochure includes each herb and flower’s “common name,” which season to see it in, the time period in which it was documented, and its original use (for example: Sweet Basil is an annual that was documented in 1750 and used in that time period for soups, sauces, and tomato dishes).
One of the main public gardens The Garden Club of Newtown tends to is at the end of Barb’s Trail, located on Elm Drive in front of Hawley Cemetery. The butterfly garden was planted in 2009 to honor former Parks and Recreation Director Barbara Kasbarian for her 37 years of leadership and service to the community.
Ms Townsend described the garden as a small, peaceful place that makes for a nice spot to sit.
Not too far from that garden is a newly planted white oak tree courtesy of The Garden Club of Newtown. It is located in Rams Pasture and currently stands at about 15 feet high.
The Garden Club of Newtown planted the oak in April this year as part of a Federation initiative from the Garden Clubs of Connecticut. Its theme was called “Growing Together: Tiny Acorns to Mighty Oaks” and is a desired tree because it supports many animals and insects.
This year also marks The Garden Club of Newtown’s fifth year participating in Newtown’s Victory Garden. The Victory Garden is located in Fairfield Hills, and Ms Townsend explained that all the food it produces goes to local food pantries or to the residents of Nunnawauk Meadows, an assisted living community within town.
“We share the work and have a ‘work party’ early in the spring and prepare the rows,” Ms Townsend said. “Four or five women show up, we weed, we get organized. Then we plant the seeds, and we maintain them all summer long.”
The four rows they care for consist of a variety of organic vegetables and flowers.
“Last year we had a bumper crop of pole beans; they were so heavy they fell down,” Ms Townsend said. “This year we are growing bush beans, beets, onions. Also, we plant one or two rows of wildflowers, because that protects our pollinators. It provides beneficial insects, seeds, and attracts bees and other pollinators.”
The Garden Club of Newtown also has been taking care of the Blue Star Memorial by Newtown’s VFW Post 308 since 2003, maintaining it and putting a wreath on it a few times each year. It originally was designed because members wanted to show their support for the troops.
Another location in town that the Garden Club of Newtown is responsible for is The Knot Garden at C.H. Booth Library on Main Street. The group planted it about five years ago, and Ms Townsend says it makes for a great spot to sit and read a book outside.
“It’s a lot of fun there. It’s a tranquil, peaceful setting,” Ms Townsend said. “There had been some existing hostas and boxwoods, but we redesigned the garden and made it really very special with kind of an English tradition.”
For all the gardens, Ms Townsend says the group tries to use mostly native plants that encourage pollinators and that they do not use pesticides. “We don’t use any poisons or weed preventers. It’s us — we are the weed preventers,” Ms Townsend said.
When not tending to the six different gardens and trees around town, The Garden Club of Newtown members actively participate in a number activities throughout the year.
One of the club’s big events — which doubles as a fundraiser — is its annual Christmas Greens Sale at Newtown Meeting House in December. Ms Townsend says people not only wait all year round for the sale, but some line up half hour before doors open just to secure a good place in line.
Club members make a variety of festive pieces including handmade wreaths, tabletop centerpieces, and boxwood trees.
“This year we are going to be selling some fall bulbs for planting,” Ms Townsend added.
The group also organizes educational programs for those interested in learning about horticulture, workshops and competitions for flower design, and helps the community on various projects.
“We partner with Protect Our Pollinators,” Ms Townsend said.
The group’s initiatives to save pollinators, such as bees, go hand in hand with The Garden Club of Newtown’s goals. Protect Our Pollinators was actually an offspring of the Garden Club of Newtown, as three of its members founded/participate with Protect Our Pollinators.
Other endeavors of the Garden Club of Newtown include sponsoring Southern Connecticut State University’s Reflective Garden, which is also called the Social Justice Public Garden. It was started in part to honor four of the women killed on 12/14 who had ties to the university: Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto.
The garden’s web page says it is being created as a place for nearby communities and the university to have a place to come together and reflect on shared experiences of joy and sorrow.
“We are absolutely delighted that they [contacted us], because we feel Newtown should be a part of their planning,” said Ms Townsend. “We have contributed money, we have attended meetings, and we will continue to support them. I think it is a wonderful tribute.”
In addition to these groups, Garden Club of Newtown also donates and supports FAITH Food Pantry, The Newtown Fund, Newtown Scholarship Fund, Newtown Forest Association, Friends of Elizabeth Park, Newtown Meeting House, UConn Soil Nutrient Lab, and FGCC Scholarship Fund.
How To Become A Member
The Garden Club of Newtown meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month, September through June, in the lower meeting room of C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street. There is a board meeting at 10:30 am, a lunch and short business meeting at noon, and a program at 1 pm that includes either guest speakers, workshops, demonstrations, or planned field trips.
Members have the July and August meetings off every year to accommodate members’ schedules, allow time for work on the spots they beautify in town, and to schedule extra outings.
“What we plan in the summer are garden walks,” Ms Townsend explained.
Garden walks tend to be leisurely trips where members can stroll through individual’s private gardens, enjoy refreshments, and socialize.
Right now there are nearly 50 active members of the garden club, and there is a yearly $35 membership fee.
The only requirements, Ms Townsend says, are that members have to have a love of gardening, want to do some community service, and, of course, are looking to have fun meeting fellow lifelong learners.
“We welcome newcomers and welcome people to come see our programs,” she added.
Anyone interested in becoming a member or a guest speaker for The Garden Club of Newtown can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Garden Club of Newtown, visit gardenclubofnewtown.com.