The Roots of Our Town

Seventy-five years ago a group of determined and talented women formed a small garden club that they named Green Fingers. Little did they know it would come to help shape the look and feel of Greenwich



bob capazzo

It’s a given—Greenwich is one pretty town. Part of this is due to the sort of thing we walk or drive by everyday and take for granted: hanging baskets of flame-colored begonias on every lamppost, shade trees lining Greenwich Avenue, pocket parks landscaped with pear trees and beds of bright annuals, or even the charmingly designed ferry boat landing, which has just undergone a much-needed face-lift after twenty years. All these delights, and more, are gifts of the Green Fingers Garden Club, which this year marks seventy-five years of conservation, education and a fierce dedication to the enhancement of our public spaces.

“Our mission is threefold,” says current president Betsy Mulcare. “We promote conservation, civic improvement and community service, as well as excellence in the fields of horticulture and flower arrangement.”

 

Flash back to 1935. Greenwich Avenue was pretty much treeless, the ferry landing was nothing to write home about, and garden club ladies were caricatured by New Yorker cartoonist Helen Hokinson as stout, rigidly corseted and dithery. Enter a dozen energetic young women, fresh from a landscaping course and eager to serve, who discovered to their dismay that the two major garden clubs in Greenwich (Hortulus and the Greenwich Garden Club) were temporarily closed to new members. Spearheaded by Mrs. Danforth “Kitty” Starr and armed with little more than a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order and a sense of purpose, the women founded Green Fingers and named it after a poem that poked fun at the inveterate gardener’s eternal—and unattainable—quest for perfection.

Through the Years
On a sticky August morning we met with Betsy Mulcare, Julia Boysen, who handles publicity for the club, and Gaby Hall, past president and the official historian and chronicler of all those good works and good times. Julia brought a meticulously prepared booklet of press releases and clippings, and the back of Gaby’s car was filled with presentation boards of memorable events. (“You can’t forget Beverly Watling!” she exclaims looking at one photo. “Her focus is flower arranging and over and over again we find pictures of her giving workshops, guiding the young.”) Betsy brought, as they all did, memories and enthusiasm for what is clearly a passion. “I love this group of women,” she says. “Everyone willingly participates. I have been involved in many volunteer organizations in town but I find this a true joy.”

“I grew up with Green Fingers,” says Gaby, whose interest in horticulture includes giving workshops on the art of forcing bulbs. “It’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.” Gaby is a second-generation president; her mother, Renee Hack, also served a non-repeating two-year term. “After we give two years of our life,” she quips, “our families rebel.”

Green Fingers began humbly, mounting small flower shows (their first was in a barn), and during World War II spaded under the Greenwich Hospital grounds to make a Victory Garden for the patients and staff. In the late 1940s, after two years of begging and negotiating, they received permission to plant trees along the sidewalks of Greenwich Avenue. By 1951 they were firmly established, and admitted to the Garden Club of America after an accreditation process that Betsy Mulcare describes as less rigorous sixty years ago. “It’s become, I think, even more difficult to do than it was then,” she says. “There are currently only 199 GCA clubs in America, so it’s become harder to make the cut. You really have to jump through hoops!”

Reminiscences come easily, in particular stories about Preview of Spring, which the women humorously comment is when husbands come into their own, helping to construct sets and adding to the camaraderie. This spectacular flower show began in 1960 and for decades was held at Christ Church before moving to the First Presbyterian Church (2012 venue to be announced). Initially, the show was intended as a training ground for Green Fingers auxiliary members, who must prove their seriousness and knowledge for two years before becoming full members; currently there are some 154 members, excluding the auxiliary and inactive “emeritus” members.

The show, which has always been free to the public, is a major event in national garden club circles; after the demise of the New York Flower Show, Green Fingers became the only single club to mount an annual show, which since 1993 has been held biennially. “It’s just too much work to do every year,” comments Gaby. “And many of our members are working women.”

Preview of Spring is always held the first week in March, partly, as Julia Boysen puts it, “because of tradition, and partly because a preview of spring is welcome at this time.” The pre-show cocktail party is the principal fundraiser for the club’s many civic projects. “It enables us to do what we do,” she says simply.

Projects and Promises
The women of Green Fingers are not out weeding everyday, unless in their own gardens—after design and implementation civic projects are, for the most part, handed over to Parks and Recreation for ongoing maintenance—but every so often they get down-and-dirty. “We have done some of that,” Betsy says, smiling. Julia interjects, “She’s our first conservation president.”

“That involves doing a number of things with the town,” Betsy explains. “We’re focused on deer management. And,” she sighs, “there are the rabbits. But, mainly, we’ve started an outreach program about our work in the Holly Grove at Greenwich Point, encouraging native plants and getting rid of invasive plants like “mile-a-minute” vine. The issue with invasives is that they take over native plants and can kill your nice little trillium in the woods.”

Julia, also a past president, says her love of gardening dates back to her father’s farm in Virginia. Her favorite Green Fingers project, hands down, was the improvement to Wilbur Peck Court. “I was thrilled,” she says. “There was a stretch of uninteresting land that was not used, and we put in picnic tables and benches so the people who lived there could actually use the land.”

For Betsy and Gaby, their favorite is the third and most recent renovation of the Town Ferry Landing. “It’s a gem in the crown of the town,” states Betsy. First opened with great fanfare in 1981 on NBC’s Today Show—Willard Scott perched on the new fountain with Janie Galbraith, civic chairman, and Green Fingers president Betsy Phelps—after two decades some serious rethinking was needed. Green Fingers got busy, and the latest incarnation includes an elegant bronze aluminum fence to replace the old chain link, and the embankment is now landscaped with low maintenance, drought-resistant hybridized native plants.

“It’s so visible and it’s just lovely,” says Betsy. “I think that’s our signature project because we’ve been back to it three times, and we’ve spent a major amount of money each time. Last year I had friends who went there, and I was embarrassed to tell them that this was a Green Fingers project because it had gotten so shabby. So we decided that this was what we were going to do for our seventy-fifth anniversary.”

On October 2, the Green Fingers Garden Club will celebrate—no doubt in grand style and with much laughter—at their first ever gala dinner, to be held at the Round Hill Club. “We feel very vibrant right now,” says Betsy, “because we have in the past year and a half admitted nineteen new members. That’s wonderful, as the rest of us,” she pauses and then laughs, “mature even further.”

 

Greenwich Agenda

  • The Many Faces of Multi Media

    2014.09.20
     @ Meli-Melo of Greenwich

    Dr. Julia Trebing, Director Creative Therapies in Stamford, CT exhibits her paintings at Meli-Melo Creperie & Juice Bar  during Sept...

  • The Food Network Open Casting Call for Home Cooks

    2014.10.25
     @ My Cooking Party

    FOOD NETWORK’S TOP CELEBRITY CHEFS ARE SCOURING THE NATION IN SEARCH OF AMAZING HOME COOKS! You’ve watched them on TV, bought their...

  • YMCA of Greenwich Harvest Art Week

    2014.10.18
     @ YMCA of Greenwich

    YMCA of Greenwich Harvest Art Week October 18 - 26, 2014 Join us for a week-long celebration of local art! Showcasing established and emerging...

  • Exhibit Ira BARKOFF

    2014.10.11
     @ Canfin Gallery

    “The beauty of the physical world becomes a metaphor for the capacity of the spirit to reveal itself". Ira Barkoff Evocation of...

  • Nigh Season: New Paintings By David Konigsberg

    2014.09.13
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    Dates: September 13 – October 31, 2014 Opening Reception: September 13, 6 – 8:30 PM  Public Invited   NIGH...

  • Undulate: Paintings By Julie Gross and Margaret Neill

    2014.09.13
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    GALLERY II Dates: September 13 – October 31, 2014 Opening Reception: September 13, 6 – 8:30 PM Public Invited...

  • Greenwich Hospital Gala

    2014.10.25
     @ Greenwich Country Club

    It will be a Gala worthy of a doge when retiring Greenwich Hospital president and CEO, Frank A. Corvino, will be presented with the...

  • Parties at the JCC Center

    2014.09.02
     @ Stamford JCC

    A place to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. Be a guest at your own party! The JCC offers a wonderful space for you and your guests to...

  • SPLURGE Matches Scarf Donations for Cancer Patients

    2014.10.01
     @ SPLURGE

    SPLURGE and the Cancer Institute at Greenwich Hospital are partnering to bring comfort and encouragement to cancer patients.  From October...

  • IMAGINE CANDY- SWEET TASTINGS!!!

    2014.10.24
     @ Imagine Candy

    Imagine Candy located in Scarsdale Village- Winner of 2014 Best West of Westchester by Westchester Magazine- holds a Belgian Chocolate and Candy...

  • The Wilton Fall Antiques Market

    2014.10.26
     @ Wilton High School Field House

    Barnstar Productions and the Wilton Historical Society will present the Wilton Antiques Market. More than 80 exhibitors are expected to...

  • Trunk-or-Treat For UNICEF

    2014.10.26
     @ Island Beach Parking Lot

    U.S Fund for UNICEF Greenwich Committee invites you to the 1st annual Trunk-or-Treat for UNICEF Join friends and neighbors for an afternoon of...

  • La Soirée d’ Automne at Bistro Versailles

    2014.10.27
     @ Bistro Versailles and Patisserie

    Wine dinners at Bistro Versailles are entertaining social events held on a regular basis. Socialize with friends and mingle with other attendees...

  • Flower Power

    2014.10.08
     @ SM Home Gallery

    SM Home Gallery show featuring two Greenwich based artists: Margaret Bragg and Penny Putnam. The art show runs thorough November 22nd....

  • Explore the Bruce Museum

    2014.10.28
     @ Stamford JCC

    Join us at the Bruce Museum for a private tour of the inaugural showing in the U.S. of “Northern Baroque Splendor: The Hohenbuchau Collection...

  • Educational Seminar - Effective Resume Writing & Interviewing Skills

    2014.10.29
     @ Greenwich Library

    Are you sure you are putting your best foot forward in your job hunt?  What will make employers pick your resume and ask you for an interview?...

  • Meet Bestselling Author Ayelet Waldman

    2014.10.30
     @ Organic Planet

    On October 30 at 10am, JCC Greenwich will present New York Times bestselling author Ayelet Waldman, who will discuss her latest novel Love and...

  • Flinn Gallery Art Opening

    2014.10.30
     @ Flinn Gallery 2nd floor

    FLINN GALLERY Opening Reception 'IN FOCUS' Thursday October 30, 6 - 8pm Seven artists share their visions - Carolyn Conrad,...

  • Laurel House Family Seminar Series

    2014.09.18
     @ Laurel House

    Thursday evenings, September 18, October 2, 16, 30, 6:30-8:00 pm Join us Thursday evenings for this four part Family Seminar Series as...

  • Harvest Fair and Gift Show

    2014.11.01
     @ Second Congregational Church

    Event Will Include Hay Mazes, Games, Crafts, Food, Holiday Shopping The community is invited to a Harvest Fair and Gift Show on Saturday, Nov....


Show More...

Most Popular Articles

  1. Henry & Me
    Greenwich
  2. B2B Blast Off Event
    Greenwich
  3. Go For Pink
    Greenwich Avenue
  4. Joie Shopping Event
    Joie Greenwich
  5. GRTA Hunt Ball Patron Party
    Conyers Farms