Marion Gardening Group celebrates 60 years
Marion — On the eve of its 60th birthday, the Marion Garden Group is pausing to look back at the circumstances surrounding its founding in the mid-1950s. What members have learned in conversations with founders and elder members of the club is that the 1954 hurricanes – Carol and Edna – played a precipitous role in the group’s formation.
The storms which wreaked havoc in coastal communities along the Atlantic that year, were accompanied by flooding, tidal surges and record-high winds peaking at 115 mph, causing power outages and property damage all over town.
Early the following spring, three Marion women began discussing how they might set about the job of replanting and establishing new gardening spaces on their storm damaged properties.
“We were on an outing to buy curtains for the then new Beverly Yacht Club,” wrote founding member Betty Whitney Young in a report for the town’s 150th celebration in 1990.
What began as a simple idea, blossomed in 1956 into a monthly forum for discussions about gardening. The women called themselves The Marion Garden Discussion Group and vowed to keep things informal. There were (and still are) several formal, nationally affiliated garden clubs in the area, but this group wanted something different: no dues, no officers, no speakers, no membership requirements.
Like a book club, the group would meet at various members homes and each person would be expected to present a meeting on such topics as garden planning, fertilizers, compost heaps, trading perennials, houseplants and vegetable gardening.
As the group grew, it invited both new and experienced gardeners to join, and soon it become obvious that there had to be some kind of organizational structure, although founders maintained that member participation would always be at the forefront of their mission.
Since its founding, more than 280 people have been members.
“Many of the charter members are no longer with us except for Betty Whitney Young who lives on the coast of Georgia,” said former president Kitsie Howard.
Each year, the club publishes a membership directory listing past presidents who include Mrs. Howard C. “Pat” Davis, Jr., Miss Edith Allanach, Mrs. Ralph Thatcher, Mrs. Frederick “Posey” See and Mrs. Edward “Liz” Brainard.
Today, more than 50 active members and 25 affiliates meet monthly to learn about gardening. Guest speakers, field trips and workshops build expertise and knowledge, but the club also adheres to its founders’ dedication to member participation through a number of service opportunities.
Volunteers plant and water the Village window boxes and decorative planters. They conduct monthly flower arranging activities for residents at Sippican Health Care Center in Marion and Tremont Health Care Center in Wareham. They create wreaths for Village businesses, and they make holiday arrangements, ornaments and decorative gifts that fill the Music Hall each year on the day of the Annual House Tour.
“Our membership is made up of a variety of talented people as well as people who want to learn,” said Cassy West, incoming president. “We have seasoned volunteers working alongside new members, we have artists, master gardeners, bee lovers, young moms and recent retirees.”
With all the work that the club accomplishes, it’s important to have a cross-section of volunteers with different skills and interests, Cassy said, “but a key element of participation is the opportunity to build lasting friendships and contribute to the beauty and welfare of our harbor-side town.”
Recent collaborations with Sippican School and the Sippican Land Trust have yielded big rewards for local residents.
Elementary school students now have a solar powered greenhouse on the grounds of the school made possible in part by a $2,000 matching grant from the Marion Garden Group.
The 8- by 12-foot greenhouse extends the growing season for the school’s popular Garden Club and makes it possible for teachers to integrate lessons in science with the authentic learning that comes via hands-on experience.
Partnering with the Sippican Land Trust, the Marion Garden Group has helped provide not only the funds but also the labor to establish mass roadside plantings at Land Trust properties, including daffodils at Brainard Marsh.
The group has supported the town’s Tree Committee and has helped with the planting of Bicentennial Park.
“We have also donated to state and national causes related to gardening,” said outgoing president Kristi Marshall, whose love for bees translated into the Garden Group’s purchase of a Best Bees Beehive this spring.
The hive is managed by volunteer members, and the club hopes to harvest its first batch of honey this fall.
“The group is increasingly cognizant of the effect of certain pesticides and invasive plant species on our habitat,” said Marshall. “We hope to continue to move in ways that support nationwide efforts to grow more native materials and to reclaim pollinator corridors to support the bees and butterflies on whom we are so dependent.”
The Garden Group relies primarily on dues from its members and income from the sale of wreaths and arrangements at the Music Hall during the holiday house tour to finance the greening of the window boxes and planters in and around Marion Village. Donations to help fund beautification projects are always appreciated. Send inquiries to email@example.com. The group also welcomes new members and encourages interested parties to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kyle Riseley is the publicity chair of the Marion Garden Group.