THE HISTORY OF
THE SASQUA GARDEN CLUB
In February, 1930, five ladies met at the suggestion of Mrs. A. Schuyler Clark to discuss the possibility of forming a small garden club of perhaps 20 to 25 congenial members. These founding members included Mrs. A. Schuyler Clark, Mrs. John T. Harrison (Mrs. Clark’s sister), Mrs. Frederick T. Bedford, Mrs. Wellington Bull, and Mrs. Charles I. DeBevoise. They wished to form a club of limited membership for ladies interested in the encouragement of horticulture, conservation, and personal management as well as participation in the caring for their own gardens. Meetings were to be held in private homes with members exchanging plants, sharing information and experiences about gardening and learning the art of flower arranging.
Several weeks later a second meeting was called at the home of Mrs. DeBevoise and the following members were added to the membership roster: Mmes. Hayes, Richardson, Stetson, Raibourn, Starring, Cavanaugh, Rudkin, Duke, Corcoran, Foster and Macdonald. Lively debate centered on the selection of a name for the new club. One particular favorite was the “Greens Farms Garden Club,” but this was discarded when it became known that another group had met on the very same day and had taken the name of Greens Farms. Other names such as Garth, Pequot, Nutmeg, Green Meadows, Sasqua and South Shore were considered. “South Shore Garden Club of Connecticut” won. The organization was duly established and Mrs. DeBevoise was elected the first president.
Almost immediately, the club began taking an active interest in the beautification of not only its own community, but also the country at large. In 1937, Mrs. James Garretson was appointed chairman to write to the legislature urging passage of a bill against indiscriminate billboards called the “roadside blight”. A letter of protest also was sent to Washington about the proposal to cut down all the cherry trees around the Jefferson Memorial.
As a result of the many, varied and outstanding activities of the 46 members of the South Shore Garden Club of Connecticut, Miss Kate Fox, President of the Garden Club of America and frequent visitor to Fairfield, wanted the club to become a member of the GCA. In March 1938 South Shore was proposed by the Fairfield Garden Club and seconded by the New Canaan Garden Club. GCA asked that the club’s name be changed, as there were so many “South Shores”, “North Shores” and “West Shores”. Again, much discussion followed but it is believed that a tree, an elm tree, which still stands on the property originally owned by Mrs. Hayes, was a decisive factor in the selection of our name, Sasqua. It seems that the Sasqua Indians, natives of this area, used this particular tree as a place to hang their papooses while they were tilling the fields. This tree was known as the “Papoose Tree”. On December 9, 1939, The Sasqua Garden Club was elected to membership in the Garden Club of America.
The years during World War II were busier than ever for the garden club members. Seeds were sent to Finland and Great Britain. Proceeds from a highly successful house tour were sent to the USO and British War Relief as part of the GCA quota. Sasqua sent $600 to each. Perhaps the most outstanding project at that time was a cannery set up in the Greens Farms public school and later moved to the old Wakeman Memorial. Retorts and other necessary canning equipment were acquired and a professional engaged as supervisor. People from all around brought baskets of vegetables, grown in victory gardens, to be canned at ten cents per can. This lasted two years during which a total of 26,000 cans were processed. Due to gas rationing, Sasqua volunteers who came every day to the six-week sessions had to ride their bicycles from near and far to get there at all.
Since those first few decades, the club has continued to make progress in carrying out the principles laid down by its gracious founders. Outstanding work has been accomplished in horticulture, conservation and flower arranging, garnering the club awards too numerous to list. The Council of State Garden Clubs recognized the Sasqua Garden Club with a special achievement award in 1945 as well as an award for an outstanding flower show in 1954.
As environmental awareness blossomed in the late 1960s, the Sasqua Garden Club turned its attention to the Mill River. In 1969, one of the club’s members, Mrs. Harry Shaw, formed the Mill River Wetlands Committee, and a continuing education program was developed in cooperation with other organizations. In September 1971, prior to a hearing the State Department of Agriculture on wetland designation, the club, with several other garden clubs in the area, organized a tour of the wetland areas bordering Mill River and Sasco Creek to determine what areas the state had included in their designation of wetlands and to decide whether their designations were adequate. Feeling that only a small area of viable wetland had been included in the Department’s outline, a strong statement from Sasqua GC, and signed by many members was presented at that hearing. Concerns for our environmental future prompted the Mill River Wetlands Committee to develop River-Lab. A unique hands on program of environmental study for grades 3-6 in all public schools in Fairfield. All elements of the program have been adopted as part of the science curriculum. It is still apart of the curriculum in 2012.
In 1961 Sasqua Garden Club was the recipient of the GCA Founders Fund. In 1960 landscape architect Eloise Ray developed a plan to fill a small glassed in courtyard at the Mid-Fairfield County Youth Museum. The courtyard planted with native plants was to be a living exhibit in miniature of the varied landscapes in Connecticut. Funds were needed to for the plant material. Sasqua GC applied for and won the Founders Fund award. We raised almost $7,000 for the garden.
A committee headed by Mrs. Dana Ackerly began working on a project to further the art and science of horticulture in 1972. This committee organized a benefit to assist the Scholarship Fund of the Student Horticulturist Program at the New York Botanical Garden. The benefit consisted of a loaned exhibit of flower paintings entitled “Masterpieces in Bloom” at the Wildenstein Gallery in New York and ran from April 3 to May 5, 1973. Over the following few years, the club devoted its efforts to the beautification of the historic area of Southport along with a project of bulb planting in several areas of Fairfield.
May of 1977 brought the Zone II Annual Meeting to the Sasqua Garden Club. The one day event, chaired by Mrs. Frederick Silliman, included a business meeting, a conservation meeting and a horticulture meeting held at the Fairfield Historical Society. The Zone Flower Show and Gavel Competition were held across the street at St. Paul’s Church. Delegates were taken to private homes for luncheon and then transported to the Aspetuck Valley Apple Barn in Easton where they were entertained by the guest speaker Christopher Roosevelt, son of the late Franklin D. Roosevelt and member of the Oceanic Society of Stamford.
The 1980s began with a celebration of the Sasqua Garden Club’s fiftieth anniversary. A luncheon was given at the Pequot Yacht Club and the Pequot Library was presented with a copy of the New York Botanical Garden’s “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Horticulture”. Two years later, in 1982, Mr. Roswell Barrett of Southport donated land next to the Pequot Library to the club. The one-third of an acre plot was transformed into a wildflower garden and was henceforth known as the Sasqua Wild Flower Preserve. The project had the blessing of the Aspetuck Land Trust and the Fairfield Conservation Commission.
During 1985, the growing seasons in the Wild Flower Garden were videotaped and made into a special presentation. The tape showed blooms in seasonal sequence such as may apple, trillium, marsh marigold, colts foot, ferns, wild poppy and violets. The plan for our park won First Prize at the Garden Club of America’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco that same year.
Through the rest of the 1980s and 1990s, the club has continued to leave its mark on the community. Bulbs of both crocus and daffodil are planted each year throughout Fairfield and barrels are planted at the train station with flowers in the spring, Kale in the fall, and greens in the winter. In conjunction with the Town, the club has landscaped the Town Library, the Senior Center and the Old Town Hall.
Between 1991 and 2001, Sasqua hosted three flower shows: one in 1991 entitled “On the Harbor”, one in 1995 called “Best Sellers” and one in 2001 named “By the Beautiful Sea. In addition, the club hosted the 1993 Zone II meeting in the Pequot Library and Trinity Church Parish Hall. All of these events were very successful and garnered several awards for the club and its individual members.
An annual Plant Sale was added as a new fundraiser in 1997. Held each spring, this event provided the town with hardy plants, which help beautify the community. And most recently, as part of the club’s ongoing civic commitments, Sasqua has worked with children at the Read Elementary School located in an impoverished area of Bridgeport. The students have taken trips to local museums and nurseries and have participated in classroom projects, all in an effort to raise their cultural, horticultural and environmental awareness.
In 2001, Sasqua initiated its website and became one of the few GCA clubs to have a website. The goal of the website is to provide a vehicle for members to be able to easily access club schedules, activities and events, and the membership directory.
The Club continues its primary fundraiser each year: our Annual Holiday Party, always held on the first Friday of December. The Club raises civic funds through ticket prices and selling of bulbs. This event is always a club highlight and proved to be very worthwhile fundraiser.
Our ongoing Civic Project is the Fairfield Senior Citizen Center. We took on the long-term responsibility of planting and maintaining the front gardens, donating benches and planting trees.
In May 2005 we held a small GCA Flower Show at the Burr Mansion entitled “PostCards.” We received five out of seven National GCA Awards and two Judges Commendations. The show was quite well received and a financial success.
In September 2005 the Sasqua Garden Club celebrated its 75th Anniversary at the home of Mary and Tom Hodgman. Members and spouses enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and dinner to celebrate the major anniversary and successful flower show.
In May 2006 the First Selectman of Fairfield, Kenneth Flatto, presented the Club with a Town Proclamation in recognition of its civic contributions to the town in celebration of our 75th Anniversary. This award was presented at the Annual In-Club Flower Show we hold each May.
The Club had its’ first “international” Visiting Gardens trip in July 2006. Eleven members travelled to Quebec, Canada for four days. The highlight was a private tour of Ann & Frank Cabot’s garden, “Les Quatre Vents.”
Two important civic projects were underwritten during the 2006-07 period. Sasqua Garden Club collaborated with Oliver Nurseries to design and plant the interior courtyard of the Tomlinson Middle School on Unquowa Road. The area has gravel walkways, two garden benches and borders planted with perennials, flowering shrubs and trees. This courtyard, long neglected at the school, has been turned into a beautiful, serene space where students, staff and teachers can congregate in nice weather. Classes are now also being taught in the courtyard. The second project was done in collaboration with the Fairfield Garden Club. Both clubs voted to underwrite the planting around the newly completed Fairfield Museum and History Center.
We again collaborated with the Fairfield Garden Club during the 2008-9 season by conceptualizing and implementing a symposium on organic lawn care and pesticide use. Held on Earth Day, April 22nd, “Going Green in Your Own Backyard” was open to the public and very well attended.
In Spring 2009 the Club voted to allocate $10,000 from its Community Trust Fund to augment a State grant awarded to the Town of Fairfield for the beautification of the downtown area. Our decision to make this significant financial contribution has allowed the town to purchase and plant trees and complete the landscaping of the entry to The Fairfield Theater Company that had formerly been a parking lot of broken pavement, rusted chain link fence and overgrown shrubs. Designed in collaboration with Oliver Nurseries, the project was selected to be our GCA Centennial Tree project in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of The Garden Club of America. The selection of an elm tree, Ulmus americana ‘Valley Forge’, is particularly fitting for this important celebration. In conjunction with the planting of four elm trees, Sasqua GC planted three native hawthorns, Crateagus viridis ‘Winer King’ the following year.
In April 2010 the Sasqua Garden Club sponsored a community-wide symposium on the importance of native plants. Authors Doug Tallamy and William Cullina presented lectures on plants indigenous to our area and the role they play in maintaining balance in the environment.
In 2009, the club created an Endowment Fund to sustain and expand the club’s community activities. Members of the club have understood the importance of this civic responsibility and have successfully guided the club to embrace a variety of projects with the goal of improving our community locally and nationally. The Endowment Fund is devoted to the long term goals of this mission and will insure that Sasqua Garden Club remains an important steward in our region for generations to come. The Fund will be a collection of monetary donations or other property given by members and friends to ensure the continuation and expansion of Sasqua’s civic work. At the 2010 annual fundraising Holiday Party, a portion of the funds raised along with special donations from members were placed in the Fund, and our initial Fund account was begun.
At our 2011 Annual Meeting we recognized Joan Rhame and Barbara MacAllister for being members of Sasqua Garden Club for 50 years.
In May 2012 Sasqua Garden Club produced an exceptionally beautiful Flower show, “Splish Splash”, dedicated to the importance of water. The flower show was awarded ten Judges Commendations, quite an achievement. One read, “The judges commend Sasqua Garden Club for its full membership’s participation that planned, organized and executed this show”. We receive all eleven GCA awards we applied for. The Ruth Galpin Propagation Award, a Sasqua GC award, was also awarded at the show.
At our 2012 Annual Meeting we recognized Joan Robbins for being a Sasqua Garden Club member for 50 years.
AWARDS ESTABLISHED BY SASQUA GARDEN CLUB
The Florens DeBevoise Medal, a GCA Award
Sasqua Garden Club established The Florens DeBevoise Medal in 1954 to honor its beloved founder and first president, Florens DeBevoise. It has been presented by the Sasqua Garden Club to the Garden Club of America, which will award it for horticulture achievement in hybridizing, with emphasis on plant material appropriate for rock gardens. Although intended to be awarded annually, whether or not it will be awarded in any year is at the discretion of the Garden Club of America. It may be awarded to a hybridizer of any nationality, but Garden Club of America members are ineligible to receive it.
The Katherine B. Pitney Award, a Zone II Award
The Katherine B. Pitney Award is awarded to a Garden Club of America member or non-member who has grown houseplants of unusual beauty and condition and who is an inspiration to others in the joy of growing houseplants in the home. To be awarded annually at the Zone II Meeting if an appropriate candidate has been selected.
Katherine Bretherton Pitney died December 29, 1982.
Sasqua Garden club recorded her death with the following notice.
“With deep sorrow the Sasqua Garden Club of Southport, CT records the death of Katherine Bretherton Pitney, a past president, on December 29, 1982, after a long illness.”
Kate had been loved and admired by many friends here since she moved from her native Philadelphia some twenty five years ago. She was an ardent horticulturist and was very much concerned with conservation as well.
She served as Chairman of Zone II in 1971-74, and as Director of the Garden Club of America in 10975-77. She held the post of Recording Secretary in 1977-79, and was the Zone II Nominating Committee Representative in 1080-81. She was also a member of the Council of The New York Botanical Garden.
In spite of failing health, she gamely carried out her commitments and will long be remembered for her quiet determination to see the job done right, and to point the way with good-natured humor. We will miss you, Kate.