Garden Clubs and Beautification of our Communities


By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

From early spring to late fall, I am always aware of the colorful plantings that grace corners and roadsides, as well as the plant containers on sidewalks, in many of the towns in our area, and I wonder, who are the people who do this beautiful work?

My question was answered just recently when I was approached by fellow realtor Bettyann Nettelfield, a longstanding member of The Garden Club of Yorktown, who informed me that her organization was celebrating its 85th anniversary this year.

When I expressed interest in knowing more about how garden clubs work, Bettyann arranged for me to meet with some of the club’s officers. In advance, I did a little research on garden clubs and beautification committees in our area and those that popped up on Google included organizations in Pleasantville, Briarcliff, Larchmont, Mount Kisco, Elmsford, Hastings, Somers, Port Chester and White Plains. And, while most clubs are private, there is a significant beautification program originated by Putnam County called “Plant One on Me” in which businesses and corporations are encouraged to do their own roadside plantings to enhance the appearance of the town.

There are surely many more groups that don’t have websites, as is the case with Yorktown, but their efforts are high-profile in that their annual plantings target the most heavily trafficked corners and streets in our towns.

“The purpose of our club is education and the beautification of our community,” said Lou Ann O’Brien, president of the Yorktown Club. “When it was founded in 1926, the club was quite different than it is today,” she said, explaining that it was then somewhat exclusionary, compared with the openness it now offers to anyone who wants to join.

Denise Farrell, the organization’s Civic Chair, shed more light on that interesting social tidbit. “From old minutes we know that, when a new woman wanted to join the club, she had to be ‘proposed’ by another member. The proposing member would then have a tea to introduce the prospect to the club, after which they would vote for accepting her or not.

“The minutes detail what was served at the tea and what the flower arrangements for the day included. Sometimes they would have contests, aside from competitiveflower arranging, like identifying the tree species from just a leaf. Only certain groups of people would even be considered for membership. Many of the early members were weekend people from New York City and would summer here. Obviously we have evolved to include anyone interested in gardening and willing to help with our town gardens!”

Elise Graham, a member of the program committee, explained that the mission of the club’s annual program is to offer education on horticulture, conservation and environmental issues. “We have lectures by well-known horticulturists, and offer field trips to significant public gardens,” she said.

The members meet the first Wednesday of every month, either at a member’s home or at a destination location. A sampling of field trips this year include: an “easy” hike conducted in April by John Schroeder, president of the Yorktown Land Trust; in May, a visit to the Locust Grove Estate in Poughkeepsie and lunch at the Culinary Institute;  a Stone Barns tour and lunch in June; and a tomato tasting by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in September. Each year, the December meeting is dedicated to wreath making at Town Hall, with wreaths allocated for town buildings.

But the real essence of the program is best demonstrated by the yeoman work conducted by the club on its planting sites throughout summer, working in tandem with the town, which supplies mulch, weekly watering and removal of waste.

The planting plans are changed each year to provide constant interest for passersby. A typical plan for achieving color throughout the season was outlined by Ann Perkowski, co-vice chair. At one entrance point to the town, Ann’s planning notes say: “There are lots of spring blooming daffodils; summer perennials include Knock-out roses (which have a high degree of pest and disease resistance) in both red and pink. Purple sedum. Icy blue oat grasses. Also a dramatic hibiscus that has dinner-plate size blossoms in late summer. A lot of magenta petunias added last year for a purple, blue and magenta theme.  This garden has mostly perennials that are drought tolerant.  The blue oat grasses remain through the winter.”
   Financing the club’s plantings and program activities is an annual plant sale that takes place the Saturday before Mother’s Day at the Yorktown Green Shopping Center in front of the Suburban Liquor Store. This year, the date is May 7th.   “And it’s more than just a plant sale,” said O’Brien. “We have really unusual plants, and our members consult with customers about the best ones to buy for certain plantings, and they even help them put together their plant containers.”

Monica Doherty of the program committee said, “People want to support local initiatives and the more who come out and buy from us, the more flowers and gardens we can plant.”

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (, affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner ( For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.