By Emily Ragsdale, Garden Education Center Volunteer, Greenhouse Volunteer and Garden Education Center President, 1995-97.
While preparing for their 54th annual May Gardeners Market, the Garden Education Center volunteers recently took a look back at the organization’s history. The first May Market was held in 1962 and was directly related to the original mission as written in 1957: The purpose of a garden center is to provide a place where garden loving groups and individuals may promote such knowledge and interest in gardening as will result in a more beautiful community.
Board meeting notes from September l961 describe possibilities for GEC fundraisers such as a flower market type of event to which local and nearby nurseries would be invited to participate.
A large tent was installed, all workers were requested to “wear skirts or dresses for that day and not shorts or slacks. Attendance at the end of the first decade of May Market had reached an impressive 1,200 people.
The historic two story town greenhouse was initially used for horticulture classes. Meeting notes state “It is very important to have the greenhouse for workshop courses and for raising plants for May Market.
In 1977, the first 25 red wagons appeared at May Market and 39 years later the loud roar of scores of wagons being pulled by eager shoppers will announce the opening of the sale at 9:00 am on Saturday, May 7th.
In 1994 one of the most important events in GEC history took place, the opening of the new, state of the art greenhouse. This bright new structure replaced an old greenhouse used for 30 years, cramped for space, much loved but problem-plagued and intermittently shared with frogs, birds and an occasional harmless snake.
Today, 40 greenhouse volunteers, under Horticultural Director Lisa Beebe, are hard at work propagating the plants for the May Gardeners market (hard-to-find tomatoes are a specialty) each year. Many current vendors such as Kent Russell, Bird House Brokerage, Moorefield Farms and Marvin Gardens have participated for over 10 years. Broken Arrow Nursery was an original vendor and will again bring their collection of rare plants. But the record of 40 years is held by Bruce McCue of McCue Gardens, a wildflower and native plant vendor who is a clear favorite of all who attend.
Since its inception May Gardeners Market has always been a community wide social event attended by serious gardeners in search of unusual plants, novices seeking advice on what to plant where, parents with small children and occasionally the family dog who frequently hitches a ride in a red wagon. All ages mingle, happily sharing plant lore and filling their wagons.
In recent years a Pre-Sale has been offered before MGM for those who prefer to avoid the crowds of Saturday and to buy their plants from the GEC greenhouse plant selections.
This year, a Cocktail Kickoff Shop, Sip and Socialize Party is slated for Wednesday, May 4th from 5pm – 7pm, admission of $25. This fund raiser supports our community outreach programs. No outside vendors are present.
Since 1992, the GEC has offered a Plants of the Year collection. These exceptional plants are to be pre-ordered by April 1st and picked up 10 days before MGM. This year’s picks include a rare Abelia, a variety of fragrant and prolific Peonies, re-blooming Iris, a sweet scented spring Anemone and pollinator friendly Columbine.
There have always been children’s programs at May Gardeners Market. Past offerings include programs featuring frogs, beneficial insects such as praying mantis, bees and cocoons in the greenhouse that opened to release glorious butterflies. This year, regional classrooms will participate in the Fairchild Challenge by potting up and growing lettuce plugs planted from seed by GEC greenhouse volunteers. Children will also take a sensory journey through Bouquet Garni and make a sachet to bring home as a gift for Mother’s Day.
May Gardener Market continues to thrive as a popular community event for Greenwich residents and many others in Fairfield and Westchester Counties and promises to be a most special event in 2016. This annual fundraiser supports the Educational and Senior Outreach Programs of the Garden Education Center.
The 2016 May Gardeners Market takes place on Saturday May 7th – Rain or Shine – 130 Bible Street Cos Cob CT 203 869 9242 www.gecgreenwich.org