Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jane's Walk: Site 26

It was ten years ago today--May 26, 2002--that Cassandra Danz, a.k.a. Mrs Greenthumbs, died of breast cancer at the age of 55. Gossips pays tribute to Cassandra by making her house--611 Union Street--our "Jane's Walk" site for today. 

Cassandra and her husband, Walter Brett, bought this 1851 Hudson River Gothic cottage in 1984 for $30,000 and proceeded to turn it into a showplace. Legend has it that, in purchasing the house, they were in a struggle with the Elks, then headquartered in the Richard Upjohn designed Terry-Gillette Mansion at 601 Union. The Elks, it seems, wanted to buy the house and demolish it for a parking lot. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and Hudson is richer for it. 

Cassandra and Walter meticulously restored the house, which, when they started, probably was the "falling down wreck" the Elks said it was. Once the house was stabilized, Cassandra focused on the garden. The subtitle of her first gardening book says it all: Mrs. Greenthumbs: How I Turned a Boring Yard into a Glorious Garden and How You Can, Too. Here's a passage from that book about the house and garden's beginnings: 
When we bought the place in 1984, it had been neglected by the previous owner since the 1960s, when his eyesight, health, and joie de vivre failed him. He was a retired New York City policeman and practicing eccentric, who left the house only to attend to his pigeons and chickens, which he kept cooped up in the backyard. He was known as the nice old man in the haunted house by the local kids and as a kook by everybody else. In a way, I'm grateful to him for not taking care of the yard or the house. If he had been more conscientious about the house, he might have modernized it and torn out all the Gothic detail; and if he had been more conscientious about the garden, he might have mowed everything down so it would look "neat."      
Cassandra gained fame as Mrs. Greenthumbs, a character she created in 1991 for a one-woman show presented at the Ancram Opera House. As Mrs. Greenthumbs, she had a radio show on the local station here in Hudson and eventually moved to national TV as a regular on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. Her first gardening book was published in 1993, and a second, Mrs. Greenthumbs Plows Ahead, came out in 1999.

Mrs. Greenthumbs and her garden were frequently featured in magazines. These pages are reproduced from an article called "A Visit with Mrs. Greenthumbs," which appeared in the Winter 1995 issue of Country Living Gardener.

Cassandra's impact on historic preservation in Hudson went beyond restoring her own house and creating a cottage garden that gladdened the hearts of all who passed by. When the Gothic Revival house just to the east was severely damaged by fire in 1994 and there was talk of rebuilding it using prefabricated parts, as had been done the year before to a Queen Anne house on Green Street, Cassandra interceded and put the owner in touch with a contractor who helped rebuild the house properly, making it actually better, historically speaking, than it was before the fire.   

In her first book, Mrs. Greenthumbs, Cassandra said this of gardening and of her career as Mrs. Greenthumbs:  
There aren't many people who have the good fortune to make their hobby into their profession. I am one of that fortunate few. I have lived many hours of my life in a garden, and that's about as close to Eden as I am ever going to get.


  1. This house is one of my very favorites in town. Now I finally know about it. Many thanks for this. And thank you for all the Jane's Walk entries which I have been enjoying so much!

  2. What a nice tribute you have written to a person who left far too early.
    Thank you Carole.

  3. Lovely post, Carole. Thank You.

  4. Thank you, Carole, for this wonderful remembrance. I knew Cassandra just well enough to know what a joyful spirit she had and how wonderfully she put that to gardening.

  5. Thank you so much for posting this tribute. Mrs. Greenthumbs is my garden heroine and I'm delighted to know that even though she has gone to the great mulche pile in the sky, she is not forgotten.