Established in New York in 1939 by Mrs. Fritz Carleton Hyde, Jr., the Rusticus Garden Club was founded to promote the knowledge and love of gardening among its members. These principles have remained our guiding foundation over the course of our now 81-year history.
Rusticus Garden Club was founded by twenty charter members who lived in Bedford, Bedford Hills, Goldens Bridge, Katonah, Mount Kisco and Waccabuc; its constitution was modeled on that of the nearby Hortulus Club of Greenwich. The Hortulus Club derived its name from the Latin “hortus,” meaning “garden.” Similarly, our charter was named “Rusticus” which is derived from the Latin adjective of the same name meaning “rustic” or “rural.” At the Club’s inception, the founders specified that all members “must actually work in their own gardens,” and that all subsequent meetings of the newly established Rusticus Garden Club should be equally divided between the subjects of horticulture and flower arrangement. Today, conservation and photography join horticulture and floral design as key components of our programs.
Early meetings of the Club were led both by lecturers well known in their fields and by members who had prepared papers on horticultural topics. Informal flower arrangement sessions and displays of Christmas decorations were held at members’ houses.
During World War II, meetings were suspended while members of Rusticus participated in the war effort. Members cultivated victory gardens as the country was urged to plant vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens at private residences and public parks across the United States in support of the troops and the nation. Vegetables grown by Rusticus members were then donated to the Northern Westchester Canning Center, which was located at Mr. Eldon Bisbee’s cow barn near Succabone Corners. Its purpose was the preservation of surplus garden produce so that more commercial canned goods could be released for export to Great Britain. Additionally, Rusticus members served in the Army Air Command, The American Red Cross, and on local draft boards and ration boards. In 1947 the Club was awarded a Certificate by the United States Treasury Department “For Patriotic cooperation rendered on behalf of the War Finance Program,” signed by Frederick Moore Vinson, Secretary of the Treasury.
At the time of its founding, Rusticus was invited to join the Federated Garden Clubs of New York State and remained a member of that organization for several decades. In the fall of 1950, Rusticus was proposed for membership in the Garden Club of America by the Bedford Garden Club, seconded by the Rye Garden Club, and accepted for membership in the GCA in the fall of 1952. At that time, the Club had an active membership of forty. In 1959, a junior group within Rusticus was formed, creating the new membership category of Provisional Members.
Rusticus has long recognized the role that gardens and horticulture can play in shaping civic improvement and beautifying the public spaces within a community. One of the Club’s earliest civic projects was the planting of 750 daffodil bulbs at the Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco in 1948.
In 1968, Rusticus embarked on an eight-year restoration of the historic Terrace Garden at John Jay Homestead. This garden, created in the 1920s by Eleanor Jay Iselin, great great granddaughter of John Jay, was restored by Rusticus according to Mrs. Iselin’s original 1924 garden plans. The restoration was completed to commemorate the 1976 Bicentennial of American Independence. The garden was modified in the 1990s using deer resistant plants and flowers and reinterpreted again in 2006. Rusticus members, under the leadership of the Civic Gardens Committee, consistently adapt and refine the plantings and design of the Terrace Garden, which remains one of the club’s signature civic improvement projects.
Rusticus has also partnered with local organizations that share our mission of improving the community. Among our first civic donations was a gift in the early 1970s to the Bedford Historical Society in support of their goal of purchasing the Bedford Post Office and the Lounsbery Building. Other organizations which we have supported over the years include the New York Botanical Gardens, Caramoor, the Community Center of Northern Westchester, the Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, the GCA New York Committee, the GCA Scholarship Fund, the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, Wave Hill and the Westchester Land Trust. The club continues its tradition of making annual civic donations to organizations within our community to this day.
Over the course of its eight decades, Rusticus has been involved with civic garden projects at the Bedford Free Library, the Bedford Hills Library, the Bedford Hills train station, the Katonah Library, the Mianus River Gorge Preserve, the Mount Kisco Day Care Center, the Luquer-Marble Memorial Wildflower Garden at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, and the Marsh Memorial Sanctuary, which is named in memory of Cornelia Van Rensselaer Marsh, the daughter of Rusticus Member Cornelia King Marsh.
The Club created the Rusticus Grant Fund in 2010 for the purpose of providing funding for local projects engaged in the preservation or restoration of local natural habitats or watersheds, for the improvement of quality of life through sustainable gardening and community development, and for environmental education. The first award was granted to InterGenerate to build a community garden at the Cornelia Marsh Memorial Sanctuary. Other recipients of Rusticus Fund Grants include Bedford Hills Live, Fox Lane High School Garden and Sustainability Club, Friends of Hilltop Hanover, the Mianus River Gorge Preserve, Mount Kisco Child Care Center and Westmoreland Sanctuary.
In 2013, the GCA celebrated its 100th Anniversary and asked all member clubs to take part in its Centennial Tree Project. GCA clubs across the nation participated in this effort to highlight significant trees in each club’s communities. Our contribution to the CTP was an historic restoration of John Jay Homestead’s original apple orchard. Our Rusticus historian, Landa Freeman, researched cultivars known to have been grown by John Jay at the Homestead during his lifetime. Members of Rusticus grafted scions of heritage apple and pear trees to understock and planted them in their gardens. In Spring 2013, 17 saplings were transplanted to their new home at the Homestead.
For the past several years, Rusticus has encouraged students within the community to further their interests in horticulture, conservation and landscape design through the funding of scholarships at local preserves and farms. Organizations for which we have funded internships include Bedford Audubon Society, Bedford 2020, D.I.G. Farm, Energize New York, Hilltop Hanover Farm and Environmental Center, Lewisboro Land Trust, Mianus River Gorge Preserve, Muscoot Farm, Pound Ridge Land Conservancy, Westchester Land Trust and Westmoreland Sanctuary.
Since the Club’s founding, Rusticus members have participated in local and regional flower shows, and have been recognized for their artistic vision and horticultural excellence. Through their participation in these exhibitions, members have broadened their knowledge of horticulture, flower arrangement, conservation and other related areas. In the early years of the Club’s history, its members were distinguished with numerous awards at the International Flower Show, the National Flower Show, the New York Flower Show and other local flower shows. At the International Flower Show in 1954, Rusticus took First Prize with its very first entry, “A Victorian Well House.” Rusticus members have continued to be recognized for their talent and artistic expression throughout the Club’s history. Four Rusticus members currently serve as accredited judges for Garden Club of America flower shows, a position which requires extensive training and stalwart dedication. Every year, the Club stages its own flower show at its annual meeting and spring luncheon.
The tradition of excellence that Rusticus Garden Club has maintained since Mrs. Fritz Carleton Hyde, Jr. first established the Club in 1939 has been consistently upheld by the outstanding gardeners who rank among its members. Many are renowned in their respective fields. Their expertise in the subjects of horticulture, landscape design, conservation, floral design, and photography continues to strengthen the Club. Rusticus has always valued the lasting bonds that are forged through a collective appreciation of and passion for gardening. The camaraderie enriched by the sharing of knowledge and skills, the connections made by members working alongside one another, the warm friendships fostered within our club and the profound respect shared across generations; all of these are deeply ingrained in the history and culture of Rusticus.