By Rebecca Massie Lane
Special to The Herald-Mail
In February and March, migratory waterfowl arrive on City Park Lake and mingle with the Canada geese, mallard ducks and white swans that are year-round residents.
Lilies of the Valley are among the first flowers to bloom, followed by crocus and daffodil and the greening of willows and other trees, and finally the Knock Out Roses in the Kaylor Garden.
In the museum gardens, spring is marked by the arrival and promenade of beautifully dressed and coifed high school students posing for prom photographs. Wedding parties line up in front of the museum's East Portico to capture their nuptials on film or digital memory chip for all time.
In a celebration of the gardens, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts hosts the Art in Bloom weekend, Friday, March 30, through Sunday, April 1.
The events includes a special Preview Evening from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, catered by Flannery's Restaurant of Mercersburg, Pa. Tickets for the Preview Evening reception cost $30 per person and will allow the attendees to be the first to view the arrangements. Tickets are available in advance at the museum.
The event continues 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 31, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 1, at the museum. The Saturday and Sunday event is free.
As one of the most beautiful sites in the region, and the backdrop for many such memorable moments, the museum building and its lovingly created gardens are not here by happenstance.
According to a thoughtfully researched document written by Christine P. Tischerin in 1995, the origins of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts' gardens can be traced to the initiative and energies of the Hagerstown Garden Club (HGC).
Founded in 1927 and federated in 1931, the Hagerstown Garden Club, began creating and caring for the museum's gardens in 1938. Under the strong leadership of Mrs. William Hamilton — who served as an early president of the Hagerstown Garden Club and who was the first and longest-serving president of the museum's board of trustees — the Garden Club and the museum became united.
In her 1995 brief history of the Hagerstown Garden Club, Mrs. Tisher wrote: "When the Maryland General Assembly passed an act granting the Museum's charter in 1929, it stipulated that the Museum's maintenance would be assumed by the City council and the County Commissioners."
With limited funds at the beginning of the Great Depression, there was a need for outside help to support landscaping. Mrs. Hamilton saw a way to help the museum, while giving the Hagerstown Garden Club a strong focus for their voluntary activities.
In 1938, the Hagerstown Garden Club established task forces for garden design, maintenance and fundraising. They employed landscape designers and planted the first gardens on the east lake side of the museum using boxwood, holly and yews, designed for hardiness, year-round beauty and ease of maintenance. Their efforts were recognized when the club received the national award for a civic project given by the National Federation of Garden Clubs. The stone marker located inside the East Portico (Diana Gallery) of the museum commemorates this award.
In the 1940s, the club continued planting around the concept of a "Memory Bank" of white dogwoods and redbuds on the steep hillside on the museum's west side, above the original parking lot. These plantings were given in memory of deceased members of the Garden Club and others.
In the 1960s, the Hagerstown Garden Club sponsored a house tour under the auspices of the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage and with funds received, they began a Landscaping Fund for the museum. These funds supported expanded plantings including English and American boxwood, Burford hollies, Vinca minor and a Wye Oak seedling.
Caring for and adding to the plantings occupied the time and energies of the Hagerstown Garden Club into the 1980s.
Their next major project occurred when the museum trustees launched the expansion of the museum in the mid-1990s. With this expansion, the Garden Club assisted with fundraising to establish gardens in the new North Entrance to the museum. They hired a landscape designer, oversaw plantings (including Heritage River Birch and Pfitzer Juniper), constructed a stone retaining wall and contributed more than $20,000 to this portion of the new building project.