Forsythia Campaign of 1953 and 1954

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The Ithaca Garden Club was a major force in the wildly popular forsythia planting campaign of 1953 and 1954 that earned Ithaca the nickname “Forsythia City.” A total of 11,300 forsythia bushes were planted in those two years all over town, with an additional 2,250 other species of shrubbery planted on private land.

In 1952, the City of Ithaca Department of Public Works, with Garden Club participation, drew up a master plan for planting forsythia bushes in multiple locations. Media attention from the Ithaca Journal and WHCU as well as from the Ithaca Chamber of Commerce, who viewed the idea as good for tourism, drew support from multiple quarters.  Indeed, it may be said that the forsythia campaign quickly became an expression of civic boosterism, symptomatic of postwar economic recovery and expansion. Local government, business and civic organizations joined forces.

In just two weeks, between April 1 and 15 of 1953, 7,000 forsythia bushes were planted on public and private land in Ithaca.  Public employees, volunteers including the scouts and nursing home residents, and home and business owners all pitched in to help.

Present-day Ithacans likely know the locations of many of the forsythia plantings   because they continue to thrive over half a century later. The Garden Club donated 1,000 forsythias along the west end of Willow Avenue between Franklin and Lincoln Streets for a cost of $500, purchased from the McGuire Nursery at the discounted price.  Prominent sites on public land in Ithaca with plantings given by other donors were University Avenue; Cascadilla Creek at Willow Avenue; North Cayuga Street from Fall Creek to Stewart Park; Elm Street at the former West Hill (now Lehman Alternative Community) School; Six Mile Creek at Giles Street opposite the former Memorial Hospital; and the old Ithaca Gun Company where 750 plants were placed.  Outlying areas included the Elmira Road and Dryden Road in the Town of Ithaca.

A great deal of local and state publicity resulted. The American Association of Nurserymen’s publication, Dividends, featured an article on the project. With so much attention being given to forsythia, Professor Ralph Curtis at Cornell, fearing an unhealthy reliance on a single species, wrote a piece in the Ithaca Journal suggesting alternatives to forsythia.  Local nurserymen then enjoyed an immediate demand for the spirea and other shrubs he had suggested. McGuire Nursery, in appreciation for all the business the campaign had thrown its way, announced an annual gift to the Garden Club for municipal planting, which began in the same spring of 1953 with dogwood trees and viburnum bushes that were planted by the City along Six Mile Creek. More than 4,000 remaining bushes were planted in 1954.

excerpted from A Chronology of Civic Development Projects of the Ithaca Garden Club   By Beatrice Szekely, July 2014