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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Andover Garden Club - Way to Go

A Massachusetts garden club predated the boom, outlasted the bust, and just celebrated eight decades with a show of historical designs.


Jan Brink discussed her 1980s-style arrangement at

the Andover Garden Club’s May meeting

Photo: Frances Y J Wheeler

The heyday of garden clubs seems to have been the mid-20th century. With a new affluence (relative to the Depression and WWII years), there were more home owners, antsy to get something happening in the yard. There was also unprecedented interest in civic groups of many kinds, an epidemic of joinerism that looks nearly Amish in our own Facebook era. And there were many more “ladies of leisure” – for feminism’s sake we might call them “women of ungainful employment.”

In 1950, 34% of all U.S. women were in the labor force; by 2000 60% were working jobs for pay. During that same 50 years, many garden clubs shriveled or died altogether.

All these changes make the Andover (Massachusetts) Garden Club a wonder. It began in 1927, 15 women who gathered “at the home of Mrs. Fred Chandler, 148 Main St., on Sept. 27.” According to Emily Young’s story,  for the Eagle-Tribune, “Most of the early members were married to Phillips Academy faculty and were viewed as intellectuals who enjoyed lectures, courses and concerts.” (From this prep school have graduated any number of famous lights, both bright and dim – including Humphrey Bogart, Frederick Law Olmstead, and George W. Bush).

Today, the Andover Garden Club is 100 members strong, all women – though the club’s PR chair Frances Wheeler writes,  “men are allowed to join.” Wheeler herself runs a PR firm; she tells us, “A few of our members have Phillips Academy ties, which is no surprise, given the substantial presence of the school in the community. However, the vast majority have no direct affiliation with PA.”


Judy Wright, standing at right, showed fellow Andover Garden Club members the

Katherine Suozzo Award she’d received at the Northern District meeting of the

Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts.

Photo: Frances Y J Wheeler

The group recently marked another anniversary with an inspired display of skill and historical insight.  At the May meeting, the Andover Garden Club enjoyed “Designs of the Times 1927-2008,” featuring eight floral arrangements by members, each executed in period style.

There’s a good run down of variations in design in the Eagle-Tribune story. According to the garden club members, in the lean 1930s amateur arrangers relied almost entirely on flowering branches and plants from their own backyards. Designs in the ‘50s were “linear and sparse” (maybe influenced by ikebana?) And in the ‘90s, under the spell of Martha Stewart, arrangers turned monofloristic, monochromatic, dense clusters of one flower, “Precisely perfect.”

Seeing so vividly how flower designs have changed, we want to know the why of it. Former club president, Joyce Bakshi, also a floral designer and lecturer, took up the challenge of answering and kindly permitted us to pass those responses along:

imageAnne Feeney and Penny Majike revived the 1970s with their arrangement for Designs of the Times

Photo:  Frances Y J Wheeler

“The reason floral designs change are many and really quite common:  The world is a smaller place. We can be in Europe or Asia in a matter of hours – flowers can be flown around the world within hours of being picked – a tulip sold at auction in Amsterdam this morning will be at the Boston Flower Market tomorrow morning at 5 AM.  I’ve actually ordered flowers from Colombia in a particular color one day and picked them up at the Flower Market in Boston the next. All it took was a phone call to South America and they were on a flight. This is not always expensive, but like all things in life sometimes it IS very expensive as well.

“’New’ flowers are developed: the Casablanca Lily – a beautiful fragrant lily—was not cultivated until 1970.  That’s only 1 of 1000s.  New varieties are developed all the time.

“When fashion is big and bold, floral design is usually big and bold: form, texture, shape and color play major roles.”

We found especially interesting Joyce’s observation that floral design follows economic trends:

“Some in the ‘business’ liken it to the stock market. When the market is up, the designs are big and lush; when the stock market is down, designs are sparse. The trend right now is fewer flowers or plant material with emphasis on line and form rather than abundance.

“Each style is beautiful.  I’m sure you’ve seen catalogs from Crate and Barrel or stores of that type with ads of a room with a table arrangement consisting of a clear glass square vase with one (1) gigantic leaf.  The beauty is in the simplicity and the perfection of the single specimen. Yes, this is a design.”

But the biggest design changes she notes are due to the greater range and easier availability of flowers themselves:  “Today we get tropical flowers at the grocery store; our mothers cut fresh flowers from their gardens – big difference in what each of us design. Evolution and change – the world we live in…it’s really exciting.” To see all eight decades of design, and more of the group’s May gathering, check out Frances’s photo album.

With thanks to Frances Wheeler and Joyce Bakshi, we’d be equally interested to learn more about what has NOT changed: faithful membership in the Andover Garden Club. Congratulations.

Posted by Julie on 05/31 at 04:21 PM
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