One evening late last fall, Mass Hort held a party celebrating its first fundraiser since its near-collapse. The group had spent more than a year on a kind of life support, and on this night the mood was surprisingly hopeful. More than two dozen artificial Christmas trees were arranged around the center of Elm Bank’s renovated carriage house, each one bought and decorated by a donor for a raffle. “When I heard they were fake trees, I almost vetoed it,” Madsen says with a smile. “But there are fire codes.”
There’s reason to be upbeat: For the first time in a long while, Madsen is happy to report, the group closed its fiscal year without losing money. Mass Hort still has some outstanding debt, but some attorneys and accountants are volunteering their time to get that settled. Madsen has also lined up a donor to pay the salary of a new executive director to finally replace Feige, a hire the board will be vetting more carefully this time.
This spring the New England Spring Flower Show will return to Boston—but it won’t be staged by Mass Hort. Instead, a for-profit company called the Paragon Group, which also puts on the annual auto show, will host it at the Seaport World Trade Center. Recognizing the possible public relations benefit of allowing Mass Hort to keep its hand in the event, Paragon will pay the society to organize a flower-arranging competition and install an exhibition garden.
These, Madsen realizes, are baby steps. But, like the Christmas tree raffle, they’re the kinds of modest successes on which the group can build a future. “Things change,” says Hilda Morrill, a Mass Hort member who had helped set up the flower show for 35 years, “and there is nothing we can do about it.” Even Madsen seems to holds out little hope that Mass Hort will again stage an extravagant flower show the way it used to. She’s a gardener foremost, and she knows that even the most beloved plants eventually die, no matter how hard you work to save them. At times like those, a good gardener has the sense to try something new.