Sure, the first astronauts set foot on the Moon in 1969, but did they encounter even one daylily or tulip? If they were craving a change of scenery, they should’ve ventured to the Clark Botanic Garden (CBG) in Albertson, which was founded the same year.
Since its nascence 50 years ago and its joining the Town of North Hempstead’s park system 20 years later, CBG has blossomed into a haven from suburban woes, a home to thousands of species and a grove of horticultural education. It also hosts the Spooky Walk every Halloween.
“Clark is a world of discovery,” said John Darcy, the town’s deputy commissioner of parks and recreation. “And when you’re a taxpayer in the Town of North Hempstead, it’s yours.”
Yet many don’t know about these 12 acres of shrubs and trees and ponds and streams, though admission is always free.
“It’s a tiny jewel,” said Chairwoman Roellyn Armstrong of the Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports CBG and operates independently from the town. “It’s almost like a hidden secret.”
CBG’s history begins in 1920 when Manhattanites Grenville and Fanny Clark, wanting to raise their children in the countryside, purchased a modest clapboard house near a stop on the Long Island Rail Road. Fanny imported topsoil and began transforming 10 acres of sandy scrubland into lawns of shrubs and trees.
They didn’t buy a typical Gold Coast mansion, but they certainly could’ve afforded one. Grenville was the scion of a wealthy establishment family.
His privilege no doubt paved the way for his career in public service. But like CBG, Grenville was something of a hidden gem. In her book A Very Private Public Citizen, Nancy Peterson Hill describes Grenville as “one of the most important Americans that most Americans have never heard of.”
A “statesman incognito,” Grenville never sought public recognition, knowing that he could achieve more behind the scenes. He advised numerous presidents and cabinet members, promoted world peace and championed African-American civil rights.
Fanny was also “a person in her own right.” Despite her limited formal education, she read avidly, becoming an avian connoisseur and an expert in garden cultivation and management. The two, Hill writes, were “an indivisible team.”
In 1966, as a tribute to his late wife, Grenville bequeathed their 12 acres to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG). Three years later, BBG founded Fanny Dwight Clark Memorial Garden. And in 1989, when CBG faced financial struggles, the Town of North Hempstead acquired the garden under a conservation easement, requiring the town to conduct CBG as a botanic garden—a venue for horticultural education.
“With each space in the garden, I’m trying to educate the public so that they can do it on their own properties,” said Bonnie Klein, CBG’s horticultural director and the town’s horticulturalist.
Visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=Za4aYJJf9Go for the town’s documentary on CBG. For more information on CBG, visit www.clarkbotanic.org.
Check out the next edition of The Roslyn News for a continued history of the Clark Botanic Garden
Rudy Malcom is a contributing writer for Anton Media Group