The 1950’s: The Garden Club of Old Annapolis-Towne held its first meeting on May 24, 1955 at the home of Mrs. Jesse Wilkins located at 232 Prince George Street. Under the direction of Mrs. Edith Roberston, the club was formed in an effort to expand the activities of the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland. Seven ladies from Annapolis decided to create The New Town Garden Club, which immediately changed its name to Old Annapolis-Towne Garden Club. The charter members were: Mrs. Philip Briscoe, Mrs. Edward Burgess, Mrs. Ross Collins, Mrs. J. LeVoy Hill, Mrs. William Paca, Mrs. Edith Robertson, and Mrs. Jesse Wilkins. At their initial meeting, the ladies determined that annual dues would be $1, and set the limit for membership at twenty-five members. They immediately began to support local civic organizations such as Historic Annapolis, Inc. and the Chase Home.
By early 1956, the membership having grown to nineteen members, the club decided to take on an annual project to benefit the community. Hence, the annual May Day Baskets event was conceived by Mary Louise Briscoe. In an effort to beautify Annapolis, the Garden Club asked residents of downtown Annapolis to decorate their front doors with flower arrangements and judges awarded ribbons for the best displays. In addition, the first May Day Tea was held on May 1, 1956, at the home of Mrs. McWilliams on 61 Franklin Street. There were 135 tickets sold for fifty cents each and members of the club served tea from 3 to 5 in the afternoon. The next year, for the first time, the May Day prizes for best baskets were divided into two categories—private homes and businesses—and ribbons were distributed for 1st, 2nd, 3rd places as well as honorable mention.
In January, 1957, the club officially changed its name to The Garden Club of Old Annapolis-Towne. The category of honorary membership was established, with the first honorary member being Mrs. Estabrook, followed by Mrs. Philip Briscoe in 1958. Honorary membership was limited to past active members.
Later that year, the club gave a gift of $10 to Historic Annapolis, Inc. and assumed the care of their garden located at 64 State Circle. According to an account by Mrs. Edith Roberston: “Here were planted daffodils, Virginia bluebells (a lovely contrast), chrysanthemums, hollies and small boxwood, and an old brick wall, long hidden by weeds and moss, was discovered.” In 1959, the club purchased and planted hemlocks, bulbs and lilies, as well as bought iron furniture for the garden at Historic Annapolis. In addition to the work for Historic Annapolis, Inc. and the May Day Baskets, and the club supported the annual Hammond Harwood House Christmas decorations, specifically coordinating the arrangements in a lovely bedchamber.
The 1960’s: In 1960, the club decided to relinquish stewardship of the Historic Annapolis garden in lieu of a new project to further beautify the city of Annapolis. The idea was to provide an incentive to neighborhoods to clean up and further beautify their streets. The club provided window boxes, filled with flowers, to an entire street in the historic section of Annapolis. The first window boxes were installed at the YWCA on State Circle and on lower Cornhill Street. Additionally, the club began a decades long collaboration with other local garden clubs to create and install boxwood wreaths on the State Circle lamp posts during the Christmas season to beautify the city.
For May Day that year, the Garden Club divided the city into four districts for judging purposes. Each district was awarded ribbons for first, second and third place. Additionally, ten ribbons, in each district, were given for honorable mention. Three districts encompassed the business sections of Annapolis: Maryland Avenue, Main Street and West Street. The fourth area covered the entire residential community. A new category was created for the special buildings throughout the city, and by 1964 a children’s category was established. Additionally, the club decided to no longer hold the May Day Tea on the same day that the judging took place and in 1967, a new category of membership for the garden club was created: associate member.
The 1970’s: During the 1970’s, the Garden Club channeled its civic work to what was then called Anne Arundel General Hospital (now Anne Arundel Medical Center). The club agreed to adopt the circle project at the entrance to the hospital. A landscape architect, William H. Potts, Jr. of Reston, Virginia, created the plan and under the direction of Mrs. Edward Burgess, the circle planting was completed in 1978. The club then agreed to plant an additional garden for the hospital on either side of the new glass corridor passageway, which connected its old and new buildings. Meanwhile, the club continued to work on the Christmas projects at Hammond Harwood House and the State Circle wreaths. Making and hanging swag decorations throughout the historic district became another Christmas tradition for The Garden Club of Old Annapolis-Towne.
The 1980’s: In 1980, the club voted to work on the gardens at Maryland Hall and also installed window boxes there. By mid decade, the club began a relationship with Crownsville Hospital by donating plants and funds to the greenhouse and by making wreaths to decorate the hospital at Christmas. In 1988, in an effort spearheaded by Barbara Tower, the Green Thumb Award was created. Local businesses and residents were acknowledged for their efforts towards beautification in downtown Annapolis.
The 1990’s: The 1990’s ushered in a new era of bringing nationally known garden lecturers to Annapolis. The joint efforts of Four Rivers Garden Club and The Garden Club of Old Annapolis-Towne resulted in sponsored lectures by Eleanor Weller and Philip Watson. All the while, the club continued its support of the local civic organizations that had become a tradition. In 1995, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the club, in cooperation with the city arborist, the club planted a tree at the foot of Main Street with commemorative brass plaque.
The Next Century: By 2000, the club’s ongoing civic projects included continued support of the Hammond Harwood House at Christmas, wreaths for Crownsville Hospital as well as State Circle, and a new project: the care and maintenance of a city garden plot at Northwest Street. In conjunction with the City of Annapolis’ program called Greenscape, the Garden Club members keep this urban garden space looking well tended and attractive. The annual May Day Basket tradition has become a must see event for many locals as well as visitors, with special trips scheduled to coincide with the contest. More emphasis has been placed on encouraging participation throughout the downtown area and the May Day Tea is now open to ribbon winners as a thank you event.
The fiftieth anniversary of the Garden Club of Old Annapolis-Towne was celebrated in 2005. In keeping with the goal that was visualized by the founding members of the club, a raised garden plot, adjacent to the Port Warden’s office at Susan Campbell Park, was landscaped by club members. Honorary member Susan Carter developed the plan for the garden. A plaque commemorating fifty years of service to the Annapolis community was placed at the site.