By Sarah Rossbach Fleming
RUMSON – The Rumson Garden Club (RGC) centennial is in full bloom.
The club is celebrating 100 years of fostering conservation and ecology, civic projects and community awareness as well as promoting education on gardening, recycling and preservation and restoration of the New Jersey shore.
“For the past 100 years, the members of RGC devoted themselves to conserving and enhancing nature and our environment,” said Christine Hetzler, RGC president. “In our next century, we hope to help educate and lead the way focusing on ecology, horticulture and preserving the natural beauty of Rumson and the world beyond.”
In 1914, the Rumson Garden Club grew out of the area’s surroundings, from coastal gardens to woodland glades, and was founded by Mrs. Howard S. Borden, Mrs. Carl F. Boker, Mrs. Harden L. Crawford, Mrs. Charles D. Halsey, Mrs. George D. Hodgman, Mrs. Alfred. H. Porter and her daughters, Nellie and Grace Porter.
At the time there was a growing national movement among women to appreciate, preserve and learn more about gardening and nature. The women may have been inspired by the suffragette movement and President Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of wildlife preserves and national parks and forests.
Initially, the RGC was a way for a few friends to gather, drink wine or tea, and discuss and learn about garden design and horticulture. The club was so well received, that it grew to 46 members in its first two years and included women from Fair Haven, Seabright, Red Bank, Middletown, Elberon and Monmouth Beach.
Since 1915, the RGC has held flower shows. Using material from cutting gardens, flowering trees, and well-tended greenhouses, members arranged flowers and greens in bowls and vases anchored with frogs and oases to create floral masterpieces.
Today, talented members exhibit during monthly meetings and larger, prestigious shows, including the Philadelphia Flower Show, Bryant Park, New Jersey shows and local house tours where they have won numerous awards.
Until the last decade, there was a strict dress code for meetings. White gloves were worn until the 1960s and slacks were prohibited until 10 years ago. In earlier days, chauffeurs often carted pots of plants and flower displays.
Since its inception, the RGC has dedicated itself to preserving, conserving, enhancing and fostering the area’s natural beauty and ecology. The club has introduced and sponsored many projects and programs that inform members and residents, beautify public spaces and conserve clean water and air and the natural environs.
With the advent of World War I, there was a home war effort which encouraged vegetable canning and food conservation. RGC members taught, housed and helped young women, known as Farmerettes, who stepped in to till fields when farmers went off to war.
Over the years, other civic-minded committees evolved to help beautify the town, conserve and preserve the natural integrity of the area and fight air and water pollution.
In 1930, a Christmas greens workshop began to provide holiday cheer to local charities. Eighty years later, the RGC still gathers on the first Saturday in December to decorate wreaths, stuff candy bags and create centerpieces for more than a dozen local charities and organizations. A pioneer of community fundraising, the RGC created the precursor of house and garden tours.
The conservation committee, formed in 1924, was initially concerned with unsightly billboards and anti-litter campaigns. As it grew, concern to keep planet earth clean, healthy and preserve its resources was seen in legislative lobbying efforts and attention to national, state and local environmental issues.
The club has partnered with many organizations to inform residents about conservation, ecology and recycling. The RGC also focuses on rare and unusual plants and native plants and educates the community on a range of topics, such as shade tree maintenance, eradication of invasives, rain gardens, and post-Sandy replanting. The RGC recently partnered with five other local garden clubs to replant dune grass and create mini gardens in Sea Bright.
“This is an amazing group of empowered women, who are concerned about the future of our planet,” said Diane J. Guidone, the next president of RGC. “I hope to focus on the macro level, continuing our dedication to environmental concerns, such as sustainability and conservation. On the micro level, with a keen interest in horticulture, I hope to get the word out to help our neighbors distinguish between invasives and native plants.”
Over the years, RGC has worked closely with the Borough of Rumson and its schools to further its mission. Plant sale revenue and other fundraisers fund those projects.
In 1996, the RGC created a scholarship fund, given annually to a graduating senior at Rumson-Fair Haven High School who has fostered conservation and ecology.
During the past 10 years, the RGC has designed landscapes for schools and parks, and even around the new Rumson Borough Hall, hosted community lectures and has been working toward the restoration of Sea Bright following Super Storm Sandy.
The club remains an active part of the community, continuing its legacy of conservation and civic, horticultural and artistic efforts.
The RGC has always been about more than flowers and gardens. It is known for spreading knowledge, friendship and the memory of its members.
Here’s to another 100 years of Rumson Garden Club.
Sarah Rossbach Fleming is a Rumson Garden Club member.