One hundred years ago, April 4, 1921, fifteen people were invited by Mrs Frederick Hill to “join a Garden Club to be started for the purpose of the Exchange of Plants and Garden Knowledge and for the promotion of Gardening generally.” They met in the gardens of Pembroke Hall on Crow Lane where they agreed to adopt the constitution and bylaws of Southside Gardening Club of Long Island, New York, with amendments appropriate to Bermuda. Mr Freer Cox, famous for his hybrid hibiscus, was elected the first of the Club’s fifty-one presidents to date. And so, The Garden Club of Bermuda was officially founded. Later, Sir J. J. Asser, as well as Lady Asser, was invited to join, as has every governor of Bermuda since.
The Garden Club of Bermuda’s “Flower Girls’ in Foral Paget, 1966
The founders’ international connections promoted liaison between the Garden Club and organizations abroad, which in turn led to affiliations with the Royal Horticultural Society and the National Council of State Garden Clubs in 1935. These affiliations now include the National Garden Clubs, USA, The Garden Club of America, and The Garden Clubs of Ontario, Canada. (For floral arts affiliations, see sidebar.)
It would be easy to assume that The Garden Club of Bermuda has been elitist, mainly promoting the gardening interests of its members rather than benefitting the island as a whole. Nothing could be further from the truth. From the start, the Club was committed to promoting conservation and the beautification of Bermuda. In 1927, for instance, it protested the destruction of maidenhair fern and other ferns growing on roadside walls. In 1928 the Garden Club bought 200 imported coconut palms, some of which can still be seen today along the south shore in Paget. In addition, it would send plants recommended by the Department of Agriculture to bazaars to “encourage public planting so all of Bermuda would be beautiful.” In 1954, a winning slogan in a contest was touchingly: “Brighten Every Roadside Mile Until Delight Abounds.”
When the cedar blight began to be a pressing problem in the 1940s, the Club was active in pursuing ways of saving and replacing the trees. By 1973 the “Year of the Tree” was inaugurated with many cedar seedlings being donated and planted all over the island then and in the ensuing years.
But conservation was, and is, just one of the amazingly numerous and diverse ways the Club has been committed to helping Bermuda. Members have also organised clean ups; presented talks given by horticultural experts from home and abroad; facilitated horticultural workshops; organised competitions in gardening and floral arts (and more recently photography); created a gardening library and contributed to it by publishing three Bermuda Gardening books, including the latest, Bermuda: A Gardener’s Guide, edited by George Ogdon and published in 2002. As member Sylvie Elliot explains, the philanthropic aspect of the Club has always been crucial. “It has been an integral part of the Club since its inception and the Club has always supported the community as well as other charitable organisations.” During the past it helped those in need during the Second World War. At the time of writing, it is helping the present pandemic crisis by participating in the COVID-19 Emergency Fund. It supports the former Maritime Museum, now the National Museum of Bermuda, the Bermuda Audubon Society, Friends of the Railway Trail, and Buy Back Bermuda. Indeed, Keep Bermuda Beautiful (KBB) and the Bermuda National Trust (BNT) organisations had their beginnings in the Garden Club. Always campaigning against litter, the Garden Club encouraged the formation of Keep Bermuda Beautiful, founded by Phyllis West-Harron in 1964. Similarly, the Club’s conservation committee suggested the Bermuda Historical Monuments Trust become a national organisation. This duly happened in 1970 with the establishment of the BNT of which the Garden Club was a founding member. The Garden Club continues to support both organisations, not only through monetary contributions but also through active participation. In the past, members helped work on Agape House’s gardens, installing a path around the house allowing easy access to the outdoors and constructing two terraces and several seating areas for private retreats. Until the COVID pandemic outbreak in 2020, Club members would participate in a KBB clean up every year. They also regularly carry out cleaning, pruning and designing projects for the BNT properties, especially for the Verdmont Museum in Smith’s Parish. Other organisations the Club helps include the Rose Society, the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce (BEST), Greenrock and the St. George’s Historical Society.
In the Spring of 2021, the Garden Club graced Hamilton with some guerilla flower arrangements for all of Bermuda to enjoy in celebration of their 100th anniversary.
As Jan Macdonald, president of the Club, emphasises, The Garden Club of Bermuda has always paid particular attention to the young by offering workshops and educational programmes and by giving scholarships to students who wish to follow a career related to agriculture, horticulture, landscaping and gardening. Many recipients went on to become well-known figures—they include Edward Manuel, who for many years headed the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Parks; Senator Walwyn Hughes, who also headed that department, later becoming the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment and subsequently the Ministry of Finance; Stuart Hayward, environmentalist and founder of BEST; Jameka Kelly Smith, now acting Park Planner; Mark Guishard, meteorologist; and, of course, our current Conservation Officer, Jeremy Madeiros.
How is the Club able to fund so many worthwhile projects? From its inception, fundraising has always been an essential activity. Donations, proceeds from fetes, sales of plants, and entrance fees to flower shows have always been important. One major fundraiser has been the Open Houses and Gardens Programme, which, as the president points out, has historically been a major tourist attraction. “Often people from abroad would plan their visits to Bermuda around the Open Homes and Gardens dates,” she explains. As early as 1930, Pomander Gate was opened to the public for charity as were Bewdley, Norwood and Widdrington in 1946 in aid of the book fund. In 1949 the Club inaugurated a spring programme of Open Houses and Gardens. These open days would not only allow locals and visitors alike the opportunity to see examples of traditional Bermudian architecture, furniture, art and garden design, but also the possibility of watching a fashion show, artists at work, musicians and examples of Bermudian floral art. For example, in May 2014 a mock traditional Bermudian wedding was held at Christchurch, Warwick, and events were held at Kirkdale Farm and at The Cocoon nearby. Over 130 volunteers were involved. In 2019 Palm Grove was opened to the public with funds going to the Skills Programme. (See sidebar.) Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has curtailed such events in 2020 and the first part of 2021. In addition, security has become an issue as has gathering large enough groups of volunteers to organise these complicated events. However, the programme will continue although perhaps on a lesser scale. Year round, the Club offers garden tours to visitors upon request.
Photographed in the garden at “Cedar Lodge”, Paget on occasions of luncheon given by Mrs. R. S. McLaughlin in honor of visiting judges for the Foral Pageant.
The Garden Club certainly has much to celebrate in events planned for the year of its 100th anniversary, April 2021 to April 2022. As member Carol Sims explains, the Bermuda Post Office will issue commemorative stamps. (See sidebar.) COVID allowing, the Club will host a celebration at Government House, donate and plant trees, mostly cedars, in the Botanical Gardens, and give Horticultural Hall, its home since 1939, a coat of paint. It will also place a commemorative plaque on a boulder outside the Hall. Additionally, it will place benches, each with a plaque, all over the island. An open house at Carter House is planned, as is a clean-up activity with KBB. The Club’s shop, co-chaired by Helen Gardner, Beth Miller and Judy Motyer, will once again offer a Christmas sale in the Botanical Gardens. Given that surprises are always relevant to birthdays, the Club will present some kind of surprise to a recipient or organisation every month.
Like every other organisation, many of the Garden Club’s 2020–21 activities have been delayed because of COVID restrictions. Nevertheless, now vaccinations are available, hopefully members look forward to an easier year. It’s interesting to note that at the anniversary of its 100th meeting in 1935, the membership stood at 130; today it boasts 267. However, new members are always welcome. Interested persons should contact Carol Sims at email@example.com or download a membership form from the website, www.gardenclubbermuda.org.
The Bermuda Post Office philately department is issuing four commemorative stamps to celebrate The Garden Club of Bermuda’s 100th anniversary. The stamps were designed by Garden Club member Sheila Semos, with photographs taken by Chris Burville, and liner notes written by member Lucy Murphy.
The local 50-cent stamp, depicting a cedar seedling, represents the Club’s mission to conserve Bermuda’s native and endemic plants and to preserve their natural habitats. The stamp also represents the Club’s commitment to education by offering scholarships and programmes for the young. (See Educational Programmes sidebar for more information.)
The $1.15 stamp depicts the flower, fruit, vegetable and herb competing exhibits set up on separate benches for judging the day before the Club’s monthly general meeting. Recently, Betsy Baillie has introduced a competitive photography division with photographs also being brought the day before the meeting. Members arrive early at the meetings with potted seedlings, cuttings, clumps of plants, seeds and bulbs to place on the Plant Sharing Bench. Their motto is: “You don’t need to bring, to take.” The Club’s shop, which sells useful gardening items, is open to members during the meetings.
The $1.35 stamp depicts a basket filled with arranged flowers, representing the Club’s focus on floral arts. (See Floral Arts sidebar for more information.)
The $1.55 stamp depicts the charming Smith Garden on Barber’s Alley, a gift from The Garden Club of Bermuda to the Town of St. George, on the occasion of the town (and its surrounding fortifications) acquiring the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Designed by Garden Club member Evelyn Young, the garden continues to be maintained by Club volunteers.
In addition to its scholarships, The Garden Club of Bermuda has always seen horticultural education for the young as a crucial component in its commitment to conservation. As far back as the Second World War, when victory gardening was promoted, schools were encouraged to participate in the School Vegetable Competitions. Very early in its history, the Club assisted E. A. McCallan with the organising of the Agricultural Show, which always included events and competitions for the young. More recently, in 2012, Mrs Fergusson, wife of Governor George Fergusson, introduced the ongoing Government House School Programme. Children and teachers from various public schools go on specific days and times to the plots on Government Grounds set aside for school kitchen gardens. Garden Club members mentor them in preparing soil, planting seeds and seedlings and taking care of the crops until it’s time to harvest. In 2015, GCB members launched Little Seedlings, offering classes to pre-schoolers at the Botanical Gardens where the children learn about the natural world by planting trees and flowers, growing their own vegetables and making rock gardens.
Ever since 2015, the Club has also partnered with Roger Parris and Sam Santucci of the Department of Parks to run the Skills Development Programme, supported by numerous government departments, the Bermuda Industrial Union, Court Services and various community agencies. The programme provides hands-on training for young Bermudians aged 17 and over in horticulture and landscaping, CPR, health and safety. Trainees, under the supervision of volunteers, undertake six- to seven-month sessions, three days a week. The Club’s committee in charge of this is chaired by former president Cindy Young and Anna Fulton. In conjunction with Parks, it has supported visits by horticulturists and arborists from Bournemouth College to Bermuda. The Club’s fundraising efforts and its scholarship award programme, along with generous donations from local businesses and private individuals, have enabled this programme as well as stipends for the trainees at key intervals in their courses, and the purchase of tools and equipment for their use. The Club has also financed students taking courses in Bournemouth College. Graduating students have now found full-time employment either in private properties or in appropriate government departments, a sure sign of the programme’s success.
The Garden Club offers wonderful opportunities for floral artists who wish to express their love of nature through their creative side by designing beautiful arrangements out of plant material. As Lucy Murphy explains, “At the GCB meetings from October till May, talented floral artists create designs interpreting ‘class titles’ to be judged and inspire. Often, the chosen titles are whimsical or seasonal or a reference to the arts. Members at all levels, interested in the floral arts, are invited to Saturday workshops led by floral art judges.” Co-chair of the floral arts division Debbie Burville adds, “If we have been away to take workshops or courses, we try when we return to teach what we have learned to interested members. We run monthly workshops to discuss the month’s titles, spaces and generally discuss the classes and we always try and have one teaching item as well.”
However, the Club’s floral artists and judges also have always had an international presence. In 1959, for example, a member exhibited in the NY International Flower Show, winning the Betty Blossom trophy and a gold medal for the best in class.
The Club’s affiliations with the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies of Great Britain (NAFAS) since1964 and the World Association of Floral Arrangers (WAFA) since 1981 are important. “WAFA is an organization of floral art clubs from 31 different countries,” Debbie Burville explains. “They have a world show and a seminar every three years. The last show was in Jaipur, India, last February where two of our judges judged at the show and one member entered the show. The next world show is in New Zealand in 2023. WAFA is a very important organisation where we can network, learn new things and make important contacts.” In recent years, the Club’s floral artists have also won awards at international flower shows at Canada Blooms, Canada’s largest flower and garden festival in Toronto, and at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
The Club is also proud to have Bermuda judges qualified to the very highest of standards since they pass an international floral arts examination. Over the last three years, the Club has run judging courses based on the NAFAS UK’s requirements. As a result, the Club is happy to have three new judges on board. Club members who are international floral art judges travel frequently to judge at various shows around the world.
Bermuda had its own floral pageant or Easter parade. April 10, 1930, marked the first of Bermuda’s floral pageants held yearly until 1968. It was a huge tourist attraction for many visitors from the eastern seaboard. Irving Berlin was inspired by it to write his classic “Easter Parade.” In 1950, The Garden Club of Bermuda sponsored it and the same year their floral float won a special prize. In 1955 their float, “The Fountain,” won best entry for a voluntary organisation.