For more than sixty years, the Nantucket Garden Club has helped to nurture and cultivate beauty on our island in ways that may surprise many residents. Most know of the Garden Club’s role in the annual Daffodil Festival, and many have attended their Green Thumb Show and their August House Tour. In addition to these fun public events, members of the Nantucket Garden Club have long given hands-on and funding support to nearly every aspect of Nantucket’s natural beauty.
Organized in 1953 by 34 dedicated year-round and summer residents who wanted to promote knowledge of and love for gardening, the club has grown to include 125 members today. The following year, 1954, the Nantucket Garden Club became a member of The Garden Club of America, a nationwide organization located in communities in all 50 states.
Just two years after they started the club, in 1955, members hosted their first House Tour, welcoming the public into their homes and gardens to raise money for club endeavors. Sixty-two years later, this popular tour continues to offer an opportunity to peek into many historic and new homes and gardens on Nantucket. Each year a different neighborhood is selected…from ‘Sconset to Monomoy to Brant Point. Garden Club members provide flower arrangements to compliment the rooms in each home. This year, their House Tour will be held on August 10 from 11 am to 4 pm, rain or shine, and will feature historic homes on Orange Street.
The revenue from this major event supports Garden Club community projects that include conservation projects, renewable $5,000 scholarships for local students, club educational programs, and grants to local organizations including the Nantucket Land Council, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Nantucket Lighthouse School, and the Maria Mitchell Association, and many others.
In 2004, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary with a $100,000 package of grants to Nantucket organizations. In 2008, it pledged $50,000 toward the restoration and relocation of the 150 year-old Sankaty Head Lighthouse. And in 2011, it donated $20,000 to the Nantucket Conservation Foundation toward purchase of the 110-acre University of Massachusetts Field Station on Polpis Road, a year-round facility used for education, research, and community service programs on Nantucket.
In addition to financial assistance to our island community, the Nantucket Garden Club and its members have taken many steps to keep Nantucket’s public places attractive and well-maintained.
In the 1960s and 70s, the club established and embellished the early gardens at the Nantucket Airport with trees, planting, and benches. In 1968, the airport received a Federal Aviation Administration award for one of the country’s most beautiful airport gardens.
Nantucket’s Cottage Hospital has received landscaping help from the Club periodically since the 1950s. Most recently, the Club provided a bench at the hospital’s front entrance.
Over the years, the Club has provided numerous plants and trees to landscape the property of the Atheneum, our historic town library. In the early 1990s, the Club donated $50,000 to rebuild the Atheneum’s adjoining garden following a major renovation of the building. A new master plan for the garden was developed in 2006 with a $3,500 Club donation.
The Club’s relationship with the historic garden at Hadwen House on Main Street is especially cherished. In the mid-1970s, the Club funded construction of a period 1850s style garden behind the mansion. The Club continues to oversee the garden’s upkeep and to purchase appropriate plantings for this beautiful site that is open to the public.
Nantucket’s Oldest House similarly benefits from longstanding Garden Club support reaching back to the mid-1960s. The club financed a landscaping plan, plantings, fencing, and a cobbled roadway. Subsequent funding included support for restoration work after a fire in 1988. Most recently, the club funded plants for the historically accurate kitchen garden adjacent to the Oldest House, as well as a new perennial garden.
Nantucket schools have also received Garden Club donations to improve the surrounding landscape. The Club recently donated $5,000 for equipment to be used by students in maintaining gardens established in partnership with the school system and Sustainable Nantucket, a Nantucket non-profit organization.
Nantucket is dotted with trees planted through Club donations. These include shade trees along Jetties Beach Road, at the Lightship Basket Museum, and bordering Broad Street leading to the ferry dock. The Club donated $10,000 to replace trees destroyed by a fierce hurricane that hit in 1991.
Over the years, residences and facilities for Nantucket’s senior citizens—Landmark House, Our Island Home, the Homestead, Saltmarsh Center, and Sherburne Commons—have all received Club funds for landscaping purposes, including walking paths and special theme gardens. The Club has long supported modest requests from the 40-plot Nantucket Community Garden on Hummock Pond Road for gardening tools and other supplies. Several times a year, club members can be seen adorning the historic fountain in the middle of Main Street.
And, of course, there are the daffodils. In addition to starting Nantucket’s annual Daffodil Festival with the Daffodil Show (approved by the American Daffodil Society), Garden Club members installed and help to maintain plantings along the Fairground Road Bike Path. In honor of the 25th Daffodil Flower Show, they completed the plantings along the Polpis Road Bike Path with daffodils; and, two years ago, in honor of the 40th Daffodil Flower Show, the Garden Club planted about 15,000 bulbs along the newly completed Hummock Pond Road bike path leading to Cisco.
For decades, the club has donated daffodil bulbs to island schoolchildren to encourage them to plant more of these beautiful harbingers of spring. The 7th grade science class, under the direction of Irene Egan, helps with the labeling and distribution of the bulbs, making this not only fun, but also a learning experience for the children.
Sixty-three years after its founding, the purpose of the Nantucket Garden Club remains to promote better knowledge and love of gardening, plants, flowers, and horticulture, contribute to the beauty of Nantucket, and support conservation initiatives that protect the island’s fragile and historic environment.
“We are fortunate to have many talented, hard-working members who contribute a great deal of time when they are “on vacation,” explained Club President Merrielou Symes. “It is a dedicated group of women… [who] feel they are stewards of our beautiful island.”
Be sure to mark your calendars this season for the 42nd Annual Community Daffodil Show on April 30 and May 1, for the Art with Blooms Gallery Walk July 15-17, and for the 62nd Annual House and Garden Tour on August 10. For more details about the Nantucket Garden Club, visit their website at nantucketgardenclub.org.