About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.
In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone National Park. During his presidency (1901 – 1909), Theodore Roosevelt protected 230 million acres thereby preserving 150 forests, 51 bird sanctuaries, four game preserves and five national parks including Yosemite. In 1906, Roosevelt guided passage of the Antiquities Act to protect archeological sites, and establish and maintain monuments and historical sites. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson continued the tradition when he established the National Park Service. Conservation and preservation were 19th and 20th century American initiatives. The initiative was fueled by a philosophy of stewardship. It was best articulated by the “Conservation President” Roosevelt.
“We have fallen heir to the most glorious heritage and we must show we are worthy of our good fortune.” Roosevelt said. “The nation behaves well if it treats its national resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation.”
Continuing in the tradition of beautification, conservation and environmental protection, the Lenox Garden Club (LGC) was founded in 1911.
According to its website: “LGC has planted and tended approximately 55 memorial lilacs of many varieties, which we believe to be the largest collection of lilacs in Western Massachusetts. This ongoing project has been funded by profits from the annual Garden and House Tour.”
However, planting and touring is not all they do. During WWI, LGC sponsored a Red Cross ambulance. LGC Land-girls planted vegetable gardens where flowers once grew, and canned and preserved the harvest.
In step with the presidential initiatives from 1872 – 1916, conservation and environmental protection became centerpieces of their efforts. LGC sponsored the Pleasant Valley Bird Sanctuary, supported the purchase of Bartholomew’s Cobble, was an early sponsor of the Berkshire Garden Center (Berkshire Botanical Garden today), and gave to the restoration of the Chinese Garden at Naumkeag.
“Proceeds from the annual garden tours have made it possible for the club to give away more than $130,000 in support of local horticultural, educational and civic beautification projects.”
A list of the recipients reflects their countywide commitment and is impressive: Great Barrington River Walk, Elm Watch, Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, Hebert Arboretum at Springside Park, Ventfort Hall, Project Native, Habitat for Humanity, Bidwell House Museum, Lenox Library Association, Southern Berkshire Youth Association and the Berkshire County Historical Society. They foster education by funding the Horticultural Interns Program and Winter Lecture Series at BBG.
Until its centennial year, the biggest project LGC undertook was the restoration of Lilac Park in Lenox in 1991. However, in 2011, LGC committed to building the classroom at BBG.
“We accumulated the proceeds from the garden tours so we could make a major gift to the community to mark our centennial.”
The Garden Club of America (GCA) was founded two years after the LGC. Today the GCA has 200 member clubs of which LGC is one. GCA is dedicated to horticulture, conservation and civic improvement.
Every February a contingent goes to Washington, D.C. to remind our elected officials of the importance of the stewardship of our natural resources – that is, preservation, conservation and beautification.
One member was delighted by what she observed. She reported the “ladies” (the word used as your grandmother would) passionately espoused their cause and refused to take no for an answer.
Her favorite moment was when an official was very sorry but they did not have the money to do as they promised last year.
A GCA member espoused old-fashioned values. The lady rose and said, in a loud clear voice, “You gave your word; now act upon it.”
The GCA intends to continue “to promote greater understanding of the interdependence of horticulture, environmental protection and community improvement.”
They also intend to put their money where their mouth is: they give away $300,000 annually. “With these and other projects, The Garden Club of America is planting seeds for the next 100 years.”
The first executive order of Donald Trump was to greenlight the pipeline regardless of the environmental impact. His proposed budget increases defense spending while decreasing funding to the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Park Service. It may be a new initiative for the 21st century, one that undoes the stewardship of the 19th and 20th centuries. I wonder how the ladies of the GCA will be received in Washington, D.C. when they return in February 2018.
In the meanwhile, we can support our own garden club at the annual house and garden tour. Much remains the same. As always, the tour is on a Saturday in July from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the gardens will be spectacular. This year it falls on July 15 and it is $60 per ticket. Ticket holders cannot drive from house to house; a van will take the participants. What never changes is that proceeds will support our community in education, beautification, conservation and environmental protection. As Roosevelt said, what never changes is we preserving our assets to turn over to the next generation.