The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 30, 2003


Carlisle Garden Club focuses on civics, learning, fun

Garden Club members (left to right) Alison Saylor, Valerie Baier and Dot Milne divide and replant daylilies from the Seawright Daylily Garden for the garden tour and plant sale on June 13 and 14. (Photo by Lois d'Annunzio)
While the garden clubs of surrounding towns may offer membership-by-referral-only, require attendance at meetings, and compete for prizes in garden shows, the Carlisle Garden Club has always gone its own, more relaxed way. President Alison Saylor has compared notes with other garden club presidents and finds, "We're much more low-key and laid-back. We've evolved in keeping with modern times and kept the commitment reasonable."

Ordinary Carlisle farmers

Perhaps it is the fact that the Carlisle Garden Club was originally formed in 1959 not as a social organization, but as an outgrowth of 4-H. According to founding member Marge Burton, "Carlisle was an ordinary farmer's town. We weren't interested in showplace gardens but in learning to do things in our yards."

Reached at her home in Ayer, 81-year-old Burton noted it was my "lucky day" to find her inside on this rainy morning rather than "out in the garden in my dungarees." She proceeded to share a number of tales from the olden days of Carlisle gardening.

Craft sale remembered fondly

For many years the garden club raised funds through a Christmas craft sale for which members collected natural materials and made items such as candle-sticks to sell. Burton recalls collecting beechnuts behind a church in Concord and stumbling on an Acton Garden Club member hiding behind a tree, apparently embarrassed to be found collecting on private property. Another time, at Green Cemetery, club members were told by groundskeeper Joe Clark to "find something to do with all these oak leaves!" Ever inventive, they made wreaths out of the leaves, and sold them at their next sale.

Over the years the Christmas sale became more and more popular, according to Burton, until the line would start forming an hour before opening. One year a large limousine pulled up. Says Burton, "We watched the chauffer help out a man with a felt hat and plaid coat." The man took his time and made many purchases. Although they must have been bursting with curiosity, Yankee reticence apparently prevented anyone from prying. "It was Dutch, Anne Wright's husband, who finally recognized him. It was Rudy Vallee on his way to the Blue Moon in Lowell · our one celebrity," laughs Burton.

Scholarship fund started

But not all memories are happy. When member Ann Wright's daughter Debbie died of lung cancer at age 13, the club began a bulb sale for a scholarship fund in Debbie's name. Although the bulb sale has been replaced by other fundraisers, the scholarship fund is still an important club priority. This year two scholarships of $1,000 each are being offered.

Through good times and bad, Marge recollects that "We really enjoyed ourselves. Everyone worked well together. We were a small town then, and this was a fun thing." She contrasts those days with the present, "We were close-knit and enjoyed spending time together. Now people live such busy lives. . . ." She adds, "I feel the town was an ordinary farmer's town. Now it's more of an "aristocratic town. . . they hire people to do their gardening and this is one aspect of the garden club that's changed."

Burton notes there was a sense among members that "we didn't want to emulate Concord." The membership was "close-knit and consultive; everyone took part in decisions." At times there was a waiting list to join due to a need to fit meetings inside members' small living rooms, but there was never a sense of exclusiveness or a desire to restrict membership.

Says Saylor of the modern-day Carlisle Garden Club, "Our focus is on doing projects for the town and on learning more about gardening." She points to the speakers who appear at each meeting and adds, "We have many knowledgeable members willing to share. It's a great place to learn without a lot of pressure. Our motto is, 'If it's not fun, why do it?' "

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito