Ask the Clark Gardener

The Reopening of A Garden

Roellyn Armstrong, Chairperson, FDCMG

How does one close a garden? And why would anyone want to? A garden is by its very definition a natural space outdoors cultivated and admired for its beauty. It would seem unnatural to want to keep away admirers of this beautiful space. In its fifty-year history Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden, Inc. had never been closed to the public for any more than a week. But as with so many things changed by the Covid 19 virus pandemic, Clark would have to close. And even though the spring beauty would happen without people to enjoy it, spring arrived in the garden without its admiring public. And in keeping with the term applied to the coronavirus, novel, we experienced some novel things this year. And, while we sometimes ascribe positive characteristics to the term novel, such as new, curious, or interesting, this novel virus would turn out to be life-changing in many negative ways. For what makes it novel is that its newness is unpredictable, dangerous and life-shattering. So, with our lives changed now forever, what have we learned from this virus? Hopefully we have learned that we humans are uniquely capable of resilience, courage, courtesy, charity, gratitude, and, most importantly, humility. We have also learned some hard lessons, as well. We have seen how we can also fall victim to denial, selfishness, disrespect and greed. We have had to face the harsh reality of the inequalities in our society. And we have been forced to see that our freedom is bound to the well-being of our fellow citizens, and our constitutional rights do not supercede the greater good. Our patriotism and love of country must inform our decisions as we navigate our new normal.

We have also learned or invented some new terms, such as telemedicine, social distancing, hybrid model, antigens, convalescent plasma, outdoor dining, curbside pick-up, contactless delivery. And in the category of “who knew?”, we have found that someone will shop for us with Insta-Cart, that MacDonald’s Happy Meals can be delivered by Door Dash, that just about anything can be found online and delivered to our doors, that we can “meet” in a Zoom room, and most surprisingly, that toilet paper might need a futures market on the stock exchange.

We always knew that a home was a source of our sense of security, but never more so than in the general lockdown of this past spring. Our home, more than just a house or apartment, became our safe haven. And many discovered that the outdoors, while being a safe place, was also a source of serenity, calm, beauty and normalcy. This new-found draw to the outdoor meant that new bicycles would be hard to come by, and puppies left shelters for new homes in record numbers.

It would be interesting to learn how many people came to the garden (Clark or any other) to find solace and normalcy during this dangerous health crisis. During the lockdown, the spectacular display of colorful tulips, which lined the entrance walkway, could only be glimpsed through a locked gate. The only springtime floral display was outside the parking lot facing I.U. Willets Road. But work on the grounds continued with reduced staff, and in early May both visitors and volunteers were welcomed back. With appropriate social distancing and mask wearing, visitors can feel safe and secure strolling the many garden paths. Indeed, it seems that there are more visitors than ever, and many are delighting in the garden for the first time. Children roam the maze; look for tadpoles and chipmunks; adults sit and read a book. And while Clark House is not yet open for any events, we look forward to the days when we can once again gather for Fireside Chats, Sip and Strolls, the annual Plant Sale, and the adorable Shop.

Hoping to see you in the garden soon.

My Hopes for the Coming Year

Roellyn Armstrong, Chairperson, FDCMG

As we approach the end of the year 2020, with the festive holidays pared down or altered beyond recognition, it is important to assess what this momentous year has meant to us as a species and as Americans. We have been witness to the decimation of the society we have come to know. It has become hazardous to host parties and see families and friends. Our favorite small businesses have or will soon disappear, likely forever. Large industries are on the brink of bankruptcy. Food lines in the thousands mark every city. Thousands face eviction in the near future. Thirteen million Americans have been infected with the virus, with over a quarter million people lost to the disease. The health care system is stretched to its limits, and health care workers are verging on collapse. The ugly face of racial and social injustice has been laid bare. A contentious and divisive election threatens to undermine our democracy. The world is in the midst of a pandemic unlike any of us has ever seen.

So, with all these heartbreaking and disheartening events, we must still realize that the change to something better is always possible through our collective wills and good intentions. We are capable of great things if we decide to listen to our better angels. So as the gift-giving season is upon us, we should ask to receive the gifts of continued empathy, charity to others, kindness and respect, civility, humility, gratitude, belief in the power of science to heal us, faith in our democratic ideals, and a willingness to work together to establish a fairer and more just society. And these gifts cost nothing in terms of money but will yield more happiness that anything store-bought.

So, while this holiday season is not what we might want, what we do this year will make next holiday season possible. Hopefully, when we reach December 2021, the vast majority of the world’s population will have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Our lives will seem a bit more normal, and we will use the “gifts” we received at the holidays to work for the good of everyone.

So, in closing, I wish you and yours a safe, healthy and happy holiday season, and as always hope to see you someday in the garden.

Remember, if you have a comment or question, send them to me at And come for a visit!

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Clark Botanic Garden needs your help.

Please help us maintain our programs and preserve the Clark legacy as a thriving botanic garden by contributing to the Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden, Inc. Annual Fund. The garden's success is directly dependent on your generosity.

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