Women at Work
by Mary Jasch
A walk up the drive past a four-row allee of London Plane and spring beauty begins the magic that is Greenwood Gardens in New Jersey. Greenwood, a hidden gem recently unveiled, is being restored to a former and new beauty with a lot of help from its friends, such as the ladies of the Short Hills Home Garden Club (SHHGC).Two years ago, the ladies and other volunteers spread spring beauties and English bluebells all along this lengthy allee. Every Wednesday they come to work, no matter the season or chore. Their goal is one: to make Greenwood Gardens gorgeous.
The members of SHHGC take their business seriously. In addition to restoring Greenwood, on May 9, 2013 they will hold a Small Standard Flower Show there, and on May 20 they will produce their very first garden tour with seven stunning private gardens plus historic Greenwood Gardens.
They had just finished renovating Brookside Park in Millburn when Peter Blanchard, the former owner of the estate, invited SHHGC to come look at the property to see what could be done. “He contacted the Garden Conservancy, who helped us get started. He said maybe the garden club could help. I took the proposal to the garden club. I said we’ll just go there every Monday and work for one hour. We called ourselves ‘The Green Team.’ We had 10-12 ladies show up and Louis Bauer was our leader. He had a couple interns and we cleaned up one section at a time. And we’re still doing it. This was 2003,” says Lezette Proud, 1st VP and Program Chair of SHHGC.
“One day Louis said we’re going to work on the spruce allee. We’re going to saw off all the dead limbs. That’ll make it look nicer. I said, ‘Louis, I don’t think the ladies will want to do that.’ It was February. Well, the day came. The ladies came. Six ladies had their own saws. So we did it.”
Beyond the main house and pavilion, where the club will hold its flower show, lies an exquisite Italianate terrace with painterly views. It was all a mountain of dirt a couple years ago. Now it is flower beds, roses on columns, blossoming trees, marble benches, re-sited statuary – and below that, more terraces with grottoes, spacious curving beds and grass pathways. The ladies worked and two years ago, on the club’s 50th anniversary, they gave a gift of $20,000 to Greenwood to help restore the fountain grotto.
Just how did they get this money? They raised leeks in a 20 x 40’ plot at a community garden in Millburn. “If we had a benefit speaker or flower arranger we charged $20 to come, which was all profit,” says Proud. “We would sell the leeks; we sold jams and jellies, flower arrangements, stationary and any garden-related object. The first year we took in $400 worth of leeks we raised.” Meanwhile, the garden mavens were looking for a project and thought, “What better project than redoing the fountain grotto at Greenwood,” says Proud who is on the Board of Trustees.
Beyond the terraces, on the same axis, lies the Garden of The Gods, a circular sunken garden with fountains and pillars. It is part of restoration Phase 3. And the ladies are waiting. “How exquisite everything is and you have no clue – 28 acres of hidden garden and the generosity of Peter – this could have been thousands of condos.”
The SHHGC has a history of restoring, renovating and beautifying land. In Millburn’s Taylor Park they created a xeriscape garden in conjunction with NJ American Water Company. The town adopted it. They landscaped Neighborhood House, an outreach center that was sold to a nursery school. After that, “we worked at an arboretum and that was taken over by the town. So that was gone and we went up the hill to Brookside Park and that was a mess and we redid that and the Papermill Playhouse is now using it for their signage. So we’re done there,” Proud says. And every year they work with other garden clubs for the Township Beautification League to help with street furniture, pots and planting traffic islands.
And that’s not all. They visit other public gardens and Martha Stewart’s garden and staggered to hail taxis after a guided, 61-block walking tour of Central Park. And they learn botanical names.
So, what is it with this club that makes them willing to take on new ideas and commitment to such projects? “They are smart ladies,” says Proud of the members including four new young (40-ish) ones. They are dedicated to their mission and fueled by their passion for gardens and gardening. “We always find something that’s going on. Who knows what we’ll think up next but we’ll always have some big project.”
Like the garden tour. “The main garden is two acres and she (the owner), by her own hand, has planted everything in that garden except for the big trees. Another created her garden from a sand pit with hills and trails and a collection of rhododendrons and azaleas to rival any botanical garden. They do all the work themselves – every bit of it and another whose property is on a hill – it’s almost a vertical garden – and is on the Garden Conservancy Open Days does all her own work. They’re tiny, but then we have these grand gardens.”
Says Chris Costanzo, publicity chair: “I think the biggest misconception about garden clubs is that the members don’t do their own gardens. There’s a feeling in general that, yes, you call yourselves a garden club but you really (have someone else do the work). And never mind the gardens, but do you understand that they’re doing all the work at Greenwood Gardens, trimming hedges, pulling weeds, planting plants? This is truly a garden club. I’m trying to sell the garden club to a gardener! So I’d like people to come see the garden tour and see what these women have done.”
Come and meet these amazing women at work and enjoy their gardens and anything else they may have on their garden tour day.