History

In the late spring of 1926, meeting on the porch of Mrs. Newton Perkins' house, in York, ME overlooking the York River and the first pile bridge in America, Mrs. Perkins, her daughter, Elizabeth, and five like-thinking friends launched another worthy civic enterprise, the Piscataqua Garden Club. Clearly much thought and discussion preceded this, the club's official first meeting, as it was followed Wednesday, July 28 with a larger general meeting at which members adopted by-laws and began to chart the infant club's future directions and goals. (A decision made that day in deference to the North Shore Garden Club's Wednesday meeting day that Piscataqua would meet on Thursday was an early indication of the club's collegial spirit of cooperation!)

Our stated goals ranged from the nearly sublime - exciting interest in gardens and plants and protecting the environment as embodied in wildflowers, ornamental shrubberies, and trees along highways, through the mildly militant - enforcement of forest fire laws and elimination of disfiguring sign boards - to the practical and mundane - collecting and safely destroying picnic refuse and teaching children not to litter. Miss Perkins noted in her 1948 club history that the club hoped to beautify front yards and roadsides in York village feeling lawns  should have other crops than baby carriages, bicycles, teddy bears and broken dolls and envisioned new gardens supplanting the weekly laundry gymnastically dancing so prominently around town. Lofty goals indeed!

To avoid being swamped by York's large summer colony, it was decided that the new club would be predominantly made up of home-owners, limited in number but not by locality. As this was to be a summer club, members tactfully formed an auxiliary for chosen summer visitors. Four men were also among the chosen first but all soon resigned, unwilling, as historian Perkins wrote to be involved in a social tea party club.

Once launched, Piscataqua worked valiantly to remove the billboards viewed by members as roadside atrocities, pitching in themselves to clean up local roadsides. (When several years later a member's husband proposed to the Maine legislature making billboards illegal, thousands were removed ) Each member was asked - at $3 apiece - to plant a tree along a local roadside and all worked to put on an ever more successful mid-summer Flower Show of small gardens staged behind the York Town Hall during each of the club's first five years.

In 1930, proposed by the Garden Club of Michigan and seconded by the Garden Club of Philadelphia, Piscataqua Garden Club was elected to membership in the Garden Club of America. In 1931, we joined The Garden Club Federation of Maine. Such early recognition was doubtless thanks to the fact that many of PGC's summer-resident home-owners were already members of GCA and Federated clubs in their winter communities.

With these new affiliations, PGC blossomed out: both the club and its individual members began to play larger roles in the national gardening world. We began to enter gardens in the International Flower Show in New York and to participate regularly in other prestigious large shows. Knowing the Garden Club of America planned to hold two days of its 1934 annual meeting with the Mount Desert Garden Club in Bar Harbor, we suggested two days in York Harbor, and 500 guests accepted. Six years later, Piscataqua held the first GCA Zone I meeting. Thus prepared, when our gutsy member, Mrs. Fergus Reid, Jr. president of GCA 1953-56, offered Piscataqua as hostess for the 1958 full four day GCA Annual Meeting and herself and her sister as co-chairs, we scored another hit. .

PGC's exposure to so many of GCA's leaders and members of GCA affiliated clubs involved it with the Garden Club of America on many levels. Club members have served not only in every GCA officer job, as chairs and members of many National committees, and as Zone I representatives on virtually all national committees. Over the years, while many PGC members have been involved with the Garden Club Federation of Maine and a few have also been active at the National level, the club as a whole has been less committed and in 2005, we resigned our membership in the Federation.

Locally, we have given gardens, and money, and paid for planning symposiums and town plans, held garden tours and shows and fund raisers, and tried to educate ourselves and others about conservation, historic garden preservation and the environment. Active diggers and planters, we've worked at improving our horticultural knowledge and skills while sharing our learning through open programs and workshops. In 1964 we published 3000 copies of a wonderfully edifying paperback, PISCATAQUA PAPERS: Gardening from the Merrimack to the Kennebec. Encapsulating much of our members' gardening know-how and serendipitously making a handsome profit, PISCATAQUA PAPERS also received a National Award from the National Council of State Garden Clubs.

We've both worked with and recognized local conservationists and we've sponsored and seconded winning proposals for national and regional awards to individuals and clubs. In 1976, we were thrilled to win the Garden Club of America Founder's Fund Award for Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, NH which remains an ongoing commitment of many members and the club itself.

As the twig is bent so grows the tree. Unlike trees, however, organizations often turn out quite differently than originally planned but Piscataqua today feels like an appropriately updated 85 year old version of itself. Still viewed officially by GCA as one of its two Maine clubs, PGC has 41 members living in Maine, 27 in New Hampshire, one who lives in both plus one each in Idaho and New Mexico. Locally, we represent 22 different communities, eight in Maine, fourteen in New Hampshire. Three PGC members currently serve on GCA committees. It's not surprising that one of those three is on the GCA conservation committee: we continue to be passionate about conservation!

The total of our annual in-house judged flower shows has been reduced so that those who put them on need not miss hearing quite so many program speakers but the quality of the schedules remains diverse and challenging, and photography is now on a nearly equal footing with flower arranging and horticulture. Judges know us for the rigor and excellence of these shows. Our Yearbook page listing PGC's judges in all three divisions will need, if more qualify, either smaller print or another page: 18 members are in the GCA judging line-up, six in more than one division. A number of members have also taken the excellent judging courses of the National Garden Clubs. Today, Summer guests are invited for two years of provisional membership and even former presidents of other GCA clubs must fulfill these guest requirements.

Perhaps it may be, as we sometimes admit, only a garden club but, of course, it is much more: just ask any member!

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