Zone 1 GCA Map

In 1913, when the Garden Club of America was founded in Philadelphia, the gathering included representatives of clubs from Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia. Only two of the garden clubs that are now part of Zone I – one in the Massachusetts Berkshires and the other in Cambridge – were then in existence. The new organization was so effective in spreading its goals of sharing horticultural knowledge, protecting native plants, and encouraging civic planting, that it spurred an immediate interest in forming new garden clubs – an important GCA contribution in itself. By 1930, all but two of Zone I's present-day clubs had been founded.

The GCA brought the gardeners of these young Zone I clubs together in ways that encouraged a broader perspective. The GCA's quarterly bulletin put garden-lovers from around the country and even Europe into ongoing communication. Contributions from authorities, such as Professor Charles S. Sargent and the great plant explorer E.H."Chinese" Wilson of the Arnold Arboretum, and landscape designers, such as Beatrix Farrand and Gertrude Jekyll, were mixed with advice and questions from rank-and-file amateur gardeners.

Meetings were another stimulus. Two of the GCA's first annual meetings were held in New England – one in the Berkshires in 1916 and the other on Cape Ann in 1920. Hosting visitors from other parts of the country made the Zone I gardeners see their horticultural institutions and landscapes with new appreciation. For example, it was encouragement from the GCA and the leadership of a former GCA president that put the nascent New England Wild Flower Preservation Society (now the New England Wild Flower Society) on a firm foundation in the 1920s. At the same time, the friendly competition of talented gardeners produced not just flower-show ribbons, but communications about civic planting projects across New England and beyond.

The GCA Founders Fund, established in the mid-1930s, gave civic projects an extra boost. Since the first award, the prize has gone to seven Zone I clubs, benefiting projects at sites including Bartholomew's Cobble in the Berkshires, Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, the Fresh Pond Reservation in Cambridge, the EcoTarium in Worcester, and historic houses in New Bedford and Boston. Finalist awards have gone to Tower Hill Botanic Garden, the Wild Gardens of Acadia National Park, and the Food Works at Two Rivers Center in Vermont. Competition for the Founders Fund Award continues to motivate the civic work of Zone I clubs. And since the early 1990s, the clubs that makeup the Boston Committee of the GCA have themselves provided funds for projects that have enhanced Boston's parklands and parkways. For decades, GCA scholarships have sponsored the research by young scholars working on horticulture and conservation at the Zone's colleges and universities.

All of the clubs of Zone I have strong traditions of horticulture, conservation and civic work. They are deeply rooted in their communities with histories that go back, one way or another, to colonial times. Some clubs are connected to landscapes of dramatic natural beauty that attracted 19th-century painters, some to gently winding rivers and ancient hills, and others to the pleasures of the New England seacoast in summer. All of the zone's clubs have made important contributions to land conservation in their communities as well as to gardens that preserve their cultural history. Regarding the cultural landscape, the legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Eliot has touched nearly every club in the zone.

The clubs of Zone I share a great intellectual seriousness. Perhaps because club members garden in northern climates where spring comes late, they use the winters to plan a busy pace of activities during the growing season. Though the membership of the zone's clubs includes some famously hard workers, they do have fun. They enjoy each other'scompany, whether they are working in historical gardens, decorating town planters, holding flower shows and garden tours, and planning fundraisers. The gardeners of Zone I have a proud legacy, and the determination to add to it as we move into the new century.

Annette LaMond
Cambridge Plant & Garden Club
November 22, 2009