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Simsbury Garden Club beautifies many locations in town

By Maria G. O’Donnell

Staff Writer

SIMSBURY – Ever wonder how the beautiful holiday wreaths magically adorn Simsbury’s public buildings throughout town? Maybe Santa’s secret elves? Or ever wonder who maintains the lush gardens at Hop Brook Landing Park? Not to be forgotten are three gardens at the Historical Society, Circle Garden at the Performing Arts Center, or the Pollinator Garden at Gifts of Love Farm. On top of that, fresh floral arrangements also “magically” appear at the library all year long.

Simsbury Garden Club members at a previous Garden Club plant sale. 

Flying under the radar (without reindeer) are the dedicated members of Simsbury Garden Club (SGC), who maintain these gardens and create the holiday wreaths bedecking numerous buildings in town. The club places a strong emphasis on education, conservation and civic service to Simsbury, as well as surrounding Valley towns, according to Marjorie Tanner, Publicity Co-chair.

She noted that the group “is a non-profit service organization formed in 1934. Our members include Master Gardeners to beginner gardeners,” who all share interest in horticulture, conservation, and service. Tanner added, “Our meetings and programs go from September to June, but our service continues through the summer months with maintenance of historical and educational gardens.” SGC meets every third Monday at 11:30 a.m. at the Apple Barn for a light luncheon, general meeting, and guest speaker.

According to Former and Interim President Marilynn Palmer, SGC became a member of the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut in 1945 and currently has 60 active members and 11 associate members. This past October, SGC won the Federation’s highest award for removing invasives and planting natives by the Farmington River bank next to the new Hop Brook Landing Park at the Flower Bridge, according to Palmer.

She said, “It was a really big project, that’s why we won the award. All plants were donated.” Helping SGC were Master Gardeners, the Flower Bridge Committee, and volunteers from town. Palmer waited for Maxine Asnis to return to the presidency after temporary leave so that Asnis could announce the award at the group’s Dec. 6 meeting.

SGC won a separate Federation award in 2019 for its Pollinator Garden at Gifts of Love Farm as an outstanding community project. According to Palmer, native plants were labeled, making it an educational garden.

Education and civic service go hand-in-hand with the club’s scholarships. SGC holds an annual fundraiser plant sale in May to raise money for horticulture-related scholarships for the college-bound. This past June, a garden tour served as a fundraiser, which was “well-attended,” according to Palmer, and that all six private gardens were “different and unique.”

Last year’s scholarship recipient from Simsbury High was awarded $2,500 to attend Northeastern University, and $3,000 in scholarships was given to two students attending Naugatuck Valley Community College. All students are pursuing horticulture studies.

Garden Club members educate themselves while having fun. At their general meetings, Palmer said they enjoy a light luncheon and fellowship, while inviting speakers to discuss horticultural concerns, or instructional ideas, like what types of natives or bulbs to plant.

Additional enjoyment-while-learning comes in the form of field trips. Horticulture Chair Marlene Snecinski “balances where and when to go,” she said, noting that the club travels between New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. They average 16-20 trips per year, and “always plan a sleepover, more than two nights away (prior to Covid),” according to Snecinski.

She noted their annual trips: Hartford Flower Show, Connecticut Cactus & Succulent Show, Orchid Shows, Smith College Chrysanthemum & Bulb Show, Governor’s Mansion, Elizabeth Park. “It’s an opportunity for members to get to know one another outside of meetings,” Snecinski said. “Most trips are horticultural-based and steeped in history – combining gardens with history” and feature “beautiful, graceful preserved properties with astonishing gardens.”

Snecinski and Palmer named a few: the Botanical Gardens in Maine, Chanticleer Gardens and Hortulus Farm, Dupont Family Longwood Garden (both in Pennsylvania), gardens at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home in Hyde Park, NY, Chesterwood Gardens and Berkshire Botanical Garden (both in Stockbridge, MA), and Sparkling Lights at The Breakers in Newport, RI, a “magical outdoor wonderland during the holiday season,” according to Snecinski.

Right here at home, SGC maintains the Pollinator Garden at Gifts of Love Farm at 73 Wolcott Road in Simsbury. According to member Diana Hughes, the project started in 2018. “The goal was to show how pollinators helped with food production; that’s how we selected the location,” said Hughes. She credited Rita Bond as the landscape designer and Ames Tools, who donated tools to the garden.

“This past year, a group of six or seven worked on the garden,” she explained. “They assessed what was not growing well, replaced some, and labeled some. It’s an educational garden for people who want to put in their own pollinator gardens.”

Pollinator pathways segue into the Conservation Committee. Becky Kreczko co-chairs the committee with Faith Tyldsley. According to Kreczko, her committee focused on the pollinator pathway movement in 2017. “Our mission is to encourage members and the community to create pollinator-friendly habitats in their backyards by adding to the pathway: including planting simple things – a native tree, native shrubs, container planters, adding natives to existing gardens.”

Simsbury Garden Club designed and planted a pollinator garden at the Gifts of Love Farm.

Kreczko brought the conversation back to the Gifts of Love Farm Pollinator Garden, describing it as “huge; it’s beautiful.” Regarding the pollinator pathway project overall, she said her committee is trying to educate on the impact pesticides have on gardens. “Everyone wants to remove ticks and mosquitoes,” said Kreczko. “That has an impact on pollinators.”

SGC plans to have Sarah Bailey speak to the group. As coordinator of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program, Bailey will discuss chemical vs. organic pesticides, basically “pesticide safety education. We want to be an educational source,” said Kreczko. “Our group discusses other conservation issues.” Illustrating this, she noted that as of April of last year and this, “40 percent of domestic bee colonies died off; death of colonies continue to worsen.” She said typical colony death is usually 15-20 percent.

Micro-beads are another environmental issue. These tiny plastic specks are ubiquitous, found in cosmetics and toothpaste, and “don’t break down,” said Kreczko, promising hope that there is Federal legislation aimed at phasing them out.

Aside from the negative, Kreczko offered the concept of forest bathing. “People feel rejuvenated and at peace. A woman led an event [in October],” she said.

“People heard falling leaves and running water; they’re rejuvenated in nature.”

SGC’s Conservation Committee works to coordinate their pollinator efforts with the new non-profit Simsbury Pollinator Pathway organization recently established in 2021.

According to Palmer, “This is such a wonderful club. I’ve never met such a kind, caring, helpful group, so dedicated to the club’s mission.” VL


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