History of the Longfellow Garden Club
The story of the Longfellow Garden Club is the story of the restoration of a garden.
In 1921, Mrs. William (Pearl) Wing took her first steps into the garden behind the Wadsworth Longfellow House on Congress Street in Portland. It was a discouraging sight. While the House had been maintained by the Maine Historical Society since the bequest of Anne Longfellow Pierce in 1901, the garden had fallen victim to neglect. Mrs. Wing determined that “if no one else made the place lovely again, someday (she) would try”.
Over the next few years, she did just that, enlisting the support of her gardening friends for the restoration of the garden. In the spring of 1924, the Longfellow Garden Club was formed, and each member chose a plot in the garden to plant and maintain. During the months that followed, the area was cleared of debris, beds were prepared, manure brought in, gravel paths created, a gate and lattice installed. When it was ready for planting, members and other interested gardeners brought in plants from their own gardens, including many suggested by Mary Longfellow, niece of the poet, from her own memories of the garden. After much hard work and determination, the Club was well satisfied with their efforts, and Pearl Wing declared, “Here, in time, we shall have a lovely garden. Never a riot of color, but a restful lovely garden! A miracle has been wrought!”
The Club continued to add members throughout the 1920s and 30s, often drawing from summer visitors to coastal Maine. Open Garden Days, lectures, teas and dinners were held, postcards of the House and Garden were sold, spring and fall plant sales offered packets of seeds from the Garden. By 1930, Club membership had topped three hundred. While the some hired labor was used, many members were “knowledgeable, hard-working, real dirt gardeners” who kept the Garden flourishing.
In 1974, the Club voted to create an arboretum to commemorate the nation’s bicentennial. The City of Portland donated 2.5 acres of land in Portland’s Payson Park, and a bequest from a former Club member made the project possible. The Longfellow Arboretum was dedicated in September, 1976 with eleven trees representing eleven families and three continents. More tree and shrub specimens, both exotic and native, are added each year, and the Club continues to care for the memorial garden.
Today’s members of the Longfellow Garden Club share the passion and enthusiasm of those early members. The hats and gloves may have changed, but our mission remains the same: to beautify and maintain the Longfellow Garden, to foster the continuing development of the Longfellow Arboretum, and to promote education in all areas of gardening and horticulture.