In the Beginning

On the afternoon of December 1, 1915, twenty-five ladies met to consider organizing a garden club whose purpose and aims would be “for the pleasure and profit of amateur gardeners, where ideas could be exchanged, and interest stimulated in the proper care of flowers and vegetable gardens.”

Mabel Osgood Wright was elected the first president. Dues were 50 cents a year, and by the end of the first year, there were 100 members.

In 1923, The Fairfield Garden Club was admitted to The Garden Club of America.

The Club also amended its Bylaws to form two classes of membership: Active and Associate. “The Associate Membership shall retain all the local privileges of the Club except the ballot, with dues $1.00 a year. The Active Members to join The Garden Club of America with dues $4.00 a year.”

The focus at the time was represented by the formation of a new committee called the Wayside Committee to work in the schools for Wild Flower Conservation and Roadside Care which was largely an effort to limit and remove billboards.

Dues were raised in September 1923 to $8.00 for Active Members and $1.00 for Associate Members. In 1924, it was voted to raise the membership to 150 and 25 new members were admitted. The Club also formed a new committee for “flowers for hospitals and shut-ins.”

The next year trees and shrubs were planted at the Fairfield train station and town hall.

In 1926, The Fairfield Garden Club became one of the Charter Members of The Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut. And the following year the Club voted to accept “with thanks and keen appreciation Mr. O. G. Jennings’ gift of Wakeman Island as a wild flower sanctuary, as long as the Club shall exist.”

Planting Trees Everywhere

During the 1928-1929 year, an ambitious project of planting was initiated that has continued throughout the Club’s 100 plus years: $100 was given to the Southport Village Improvement Society for the planting at the Southport Station; 200 Japanese cherry trees were planted on Penfield and Rowland Roads and Lalley Boulevard; On Paulding Road, a cherry and a sugar maple was planted every 20 feet and a flowering cherry tree was given to every school and church, the library and Legion Hall. Additional trees, shrubs and conifers were planted at the railway station and around City Hall and in a neglected and disused cemetery. Three experts were employed to repair and care for certain old elms in town and The Fairfield Garden Club took to managing and financing spraying by experts of 1200 elms and shade trees, planting 250 tulip bulbs at the Old Academy and “employing a Monday morning pick-up man for the debris left on the Post Road.” And in the next year “several hundred more flowering cherry and crabapple trees were planted and also forsythia near the Gould Homestead.”

Changes in the Air

In 1931, The Junior Garden Club was organized with preference given to daughters of current Club members “if they have the necessary qualifications.” In addition, other new classifications of membership created Honorary, Sustaining, Active and Associate.

In 1932, the Club Seal and Bookplate was designed in competition by Club Member Mrs. W. Haywood Everett.  The renowned etcher and Fairfield resident, John Taylor Arms assisted in the hand lettering.  The scene shows “a bit of the Old Beach Road with its arching trees” according to Board Minutes. Miss Jennings that same year planted 19 elm trees from Gould Homestead to the library corner.

Mabel Osgood Wright, first President of The Fairfield Garden Club died during the summer of 1934, leaving the Birdcraft Sanctuary of Fairfield as a “monument to her life and work with the Audubon Society.”

A medal honoring Miss Jennings was presented to The Garden Club of America to be awarded to the sweepstakes winner at the New York Flower Show each year.  The Fairfield Garden Club then was named the sweepstakes winner at the New York Flower Show that same year, for the sixth time, with the highest number of points ever received by any club.

Dark Days and then Peacetime

In the shadow of the war in Europe, the Club turned its planting attentions to Victory Gardens and Red Cross Recreational Gardens as well as organizing and providing gifts and decorations to hospitals, army and navy bases and donations to various war relief efforts.

As part of the town’s 300-year anniversary in 1936, “plans and planting were done at Ogden House such as might have been there in the old days.”

As the decade ended, the Club voted that no more Associate Members be admitted. The Board sent a petition to our Congressman asking for the continuance of the fund for the fight against the Dutch elm disease. Annie B. Jennings, “Great friend and benefactor of The Fairfield Garden Club” died.

When peace ensued, The Fairfield Garden Club’s attentions returned to the business of running the Club and, as always, planting.  The dues were raised to $25 for Sustaining Members, $10.00 for Active Members and $2.00 for Associate Members.  One hundred and thirty-nine trees were planted in the fall of 1946 and one hundred and eighteen were planted the next spring.  And assistance was given to landscaping fifty veterans’ homes on Reef Road.

Membership in the Club at the end of 1948 consisted of four Honorary Members, sixteen Sustaining Members, ninety-five Active Members and thirty-nine Associate Members

As the second half of the 20th century arose, so also did dues for Active Members, to $15.00.  The membership meetings which had previously started at 4:00 p.m. and included a full tea, were moved to 2:45 p.m.  A Board Member presented a gavel to the President of the Club calling it “very useful and handsome” and presumably much needed.

In April of 1954 it was reported that trees planted that year included thirty-five white oaks, twenty-three sweet gums, fifty-five London planes, eleven pin oaks, fifteen thornless honey locust and twenty sugar maples.

Keeping America Beautiful

In 1956, The Fairfield Garden Club joined with another local garden club, Sasqua Garden Club (which had been founded in 1930), in the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign which had launched in 1953 to help people “end littering, improve recycling and beautify communities.”  The fact that The Garden Club of America was finally declared a tax-exempt organization may have also assisted in these efforts.

The next year, it was recommended that the Membership Meeting might occasionally be tried starting at noon and in fact at the first meeting with lunch served before the meeting, there was an “enthusiastic turnout.”

In the late 50s and throughout the 60s, The Fairfield Garden Club was continuously active in their civic projects including planting Wakeman Boys’ Club.  Dogwood trees were given to Southport and Fairfield.  $1,000 was donated to the Audubon for a new sanctuary.  Holiday decorations were contributed to Bridgeport Hospital including decorating the lobby and trimming a Christmas tree.

Fifty Years

In 1965, the Club celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary with exuberance and vigor.  It was decided that Club members would enter every single horticultural class as well as every arrangement class at the New York Flower Show held in the Coliseum.  This resulted in the Club winning the Annie Burr Jennings Medal for the sweepstakes prize, again, with the “phenomenal number of 156 points.”

The Fiftieth Anniversary was celebrated in Southport as well at the Pequot Library with a show of “The Art of the Nativity Through the Ages.”  A second exhibit was installed at Trinity Church with a collection of Neapolitan creches.  With substantial sums raised at a Christmas Boutique and many luncheons at members’ homes, the planting of a small park was the Club’s “anniversary present to the town.”

Open Space and Protection of Wetlands

At the end of the 1960s, the Club received a Certificate of Merit from The Federated Garden Club of America for its development of the new Mill Hollow Park as part of Fairfield’s open space program.  The park had been an on-going, multi-year project in which the pond was dug and walks and plantings had been designed and contributed.  The Club also became tax-exempt through its membership in The Federated Garden Club of America and had a major fundraiser with a Christmas House Tour which raised over $4,200.

In 1970, The Fairfield Garden Club hosted the Zone II meeting. The theme followed their recent and increasing interest and concern over water pollution and the Zone II shoreline to “save the marshes and wetlands.” The Fairfield Garden Club teamed up with Sasqua Garden Club to finance the Mill River Wetlands Study Group and was a partner for the Save Our Open Space Program assisting the Aspetuck Land Trust to acquire undeveloped land along the Mill River.

In 1973, the Civic Committee was very proud of a mini-park project in the east side of Bridgeport for senior citizens where a burned-out school yard corner had been replaced with soil, grass and flower beds. This project was featured in the July issue of the GCA Bulletin.

The Club was also a finalist in the GCA Founders Fund with a CT Audubon Society’s conservation and nature program called “Reverence for Life,” an inner-city pilot program for Bridgeport school children to experience ecology workshops, sanctuary tours and classroom programs.

Growth Pains

At this time, the Club had to restate that the membership must be capped at 150, although stating that they preferred 140 maximum.  In 1974 there were 9 Honorary Members (which belong to GCA but pay no dues), 115 Active Members (who are members of GCA, work in their own gardens or supervise such work, serve on committees and be a hostess and pay $15 in dues), 6 Sustaining Members (are members of GCA but have no obligations to The Fairfield Garden Club and pay $25 in dues), and 6 New Associates (not eligible for membership in GCA, but work in their own gardens or supervise such work, serve on committees and be a hostess.  May not vote and pay $10.00).  This number does not include 15 Affiliate Members and the 28 Junior Fairfield Garden Club Members.  The membership was kept up to date of news and meeting schedules by a newsletter that was written and mailed out to members.

Civic Collaborations

In 1974, The Fairfield Garden Club answered a call to provide an appropriate and more elaborate garden setting for Ogden House. The Club commissioned Anne Leighton, an authority on American gardens, to design an early 18th century style garden for the house with Club members committed to maintaining the newly installed beds.

Another collaboration during that same time period was with the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce which created “The Greening of the Commons”, promoting an ambitious seven-year program to plant trees around the shopping areas in town.  A selection of 171 sugar maples, honey locust and red oak trees was planted along the Post Road through Fairfield Center and on Black Rock Turnpike.  Several years later the on-going tree-planting project continued with the “Greening of the Post Road” in joint effort with other clubs to maintain some of the town-owned spaces.  In 1979 a second Christmas House Tour was held, “Christmas on the Hill,” offering five homes in Greenfield Hill.

A Colonial Garden at Ogden House

In the 1980s, The Fairfield Garden Club planted a traditional kitchen garden at Ogden House with “herbs and simples”, the colonial housewife’s medicine cupboard. The Club also published an education pamphlet that included the history of Ogden House, a description of the colonial gardening year, as well as a list of plants and their common uses. The pamphlet was updated on a regular basis and available to all those who visit the homestead.

In its continued dedication to Civic projects, the Club designed and installed a picnic grove at the Senior Citizen Center, hosted a film on “Water” by Peggy Sharpe and joined with Sasqua Garden Club in offering a flower show to the community called “A New Awakening” at the Pequot Library.  A few years later the Club’s Conservation and National Parks Committee planned and planted a wildflower walk and garden at Ogden House and to have a stepping stone bridge placed in the stream to give year-round access.  During these years, a concerted effort was made to include The Junior Garden Club members into all these programs.

Care of the Environment

In 1987, the Zone II Annual Meeting was again held in Fairfield hosted by The Fairfield Garden Club.  That same year, the Club participated in a Hazardous Waste Collection effort for the first time and invited a national environmental organization to address the membership.  And in 1989, the 350th anniversary of Fairfield was celebrated, and the Club offered a major flower show to the town called “Four Centuries in Flower.”

In the early 1990s, The Fairfield Garden Club hosted a GCA flower show at the Pequot Library and a flower show staged on the campus of Fairfield University in 1994 called “Great Performances” and a few years later another GCA flower show called “Bewitching”.  The Club continued its work on two long-term projects:  Ogden House and the town garden at Sherman Green, planting hundreds of daffodils.  The Club also helped fund the birdscaping project at Birdcraft Museum, planting native shrubs and wildflowers to attract birds.

In 1997, The Junior Garden Club of Fairfield merged with The Fairfield Garden Club.  The Club’s membership had grown to 149.  And the twentieth century came to an end with The Fairfield Garden Club planting and tending and caring for the environment as it had been doing for decades.  And at the dawn of the new century the Civic Committee launched a campaign to further beautify the town with daffodils planted at the 1790 Burr Homestead in the Old Post Road Historic District.

A few years later, the Club’s Horticultural Committee created a new tradition of regular floral design workshops for seniors at the Grasmere Adult Day Care Center.

In that same year, The Garden Club of America launched its national web-site which was an inspiration to all its members to consider creating their own websites which The Fairfield Garden Club did 8 years later.

The Civic Committee continued a longtime responsibility of cleaning up the corner of Sherman Green and a garden was designed for Giant Steps, a local school for children with learning difficulties, as an outdoor classroom and hummingbird garden.

In 2008, a Photography Committee was added to the Club offerings reflecting the growing interest in photography by the membership.

The Great Chestnut Project

In 2009, in preparation of The Garden Club of America’s Centennial Anniversary, its members were asked to develop and carry out a local project focusing on trees. The trees could be selected based on “historical significance, need for preservation, beauty, or uniqueness, sustainability or environmental value.”  The Fairfield Garden Club partnered with the CT Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven and initiated a feasibility study to search for sites for the planting of 100 American chestnut hybrids.

Ogden House Garden Redux

In the spring of 2011, the Club embarked on a major restoration of the Ogden House Gardens and established an intense program of revitalization. The herb garden and the landscape surrounding the house were redesigned to replicate the landscape of an authentic colonial home with oyster shell paths and wooden markers to identify plants. As a result of this restoration project, the Fairfield Museum and History Center’s colonial camp and study programs expanded its focus to include the benefits of the herbal garden.

And More Daffodils

In the fall, the Horticulture Committee created a daffodil planting program with thousands of daffodils planted on public sites in Fairfield including Brookside Park and Roger Ludlow Park where there was also a major cleanup effort around the Ludlow Monument and further beautification by the planting of roses.

The following spring, 100 American chestnut seedlings were planted in eight specific locations in public open spaces throughout Fairfield with the help of Club members and Town of Fairfield staff in celebration of Arbor Day, 2012.

And Honey Bees

In 2013, responding to the threat of the Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder the Club started an Apiary, introducing two beehives near Ogden House on the Oak Lawn Arboretum property.  The year after that at the Ogden property along Browns Brook, a pollinators’ garden was created in the riparian border with 150 native perennials.  Also, in the spring of 2013, in response to the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy, The Fairfield Garden Club organized a panel of experts in a public forum to provide community residents with information to help restore their own backyards.

In 2014, more than 1500 daffodils and other types of bulbs were planted in various locations at the Burr Homestead and the Club oversaw the work to rehabilitate the front gate of the property.

The First Centennial

In 2015, The Fairfield Garden Club celebrated its 100th year anniversary with a centennial flower show called “The Best of Times” at Burr Mansion.  The Club won the Conservation Award for Browns Brook at Ogden House.

But not resting on the accomplishments of its first 100 years, the Club returned to the work of civic beautification and set about designing and installing a new pocket park at the Fairfield Public Library.  The Club also took on the design and shared cost of planting Reeves Park across from Pequot Library with spring bulbs that were enjoyed in early 2018 for the first time and will be an ongoing delight for anyone walking or driving by each spring.

And the Club also began discussion and plans for an Olmsted Tree Restoration Canopy Project at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Olmsted’s only seaside park, in celebration of the Bicentennial Year of Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth in 2022.

The Legacy

The Fairfield Garden Club is proud of its legacy.  Going into our second hundred years, we continue to be involved with many important projects and initiatives of all kinds. And like our original founders, our current members are just as dedicated to promoting the importance of gardening, horticulture, conservation, and civic engagement in our community and beyond.

© 2023 - The Fairfield Garden Club