To get a sense of Cassandra Danz’s sense of humor, one need look no farther than her comments to a judge at a public hearing on the St. Lawrence Cement proposal:
“I am a garden writer and sometimes a lecturer. I was led to believe that we could come here tonight and talk about how this plant would impact our lives. Well, it's impacted my life tremendously. I have always had a dream about Hudson because when I came here all the stores were closed and everything was shut up, but now it's all coming back to life. And my dream for Hudson was to start a school of horticulture here in town in my retirement. And I always thought that was possible because we had a clean environment but now it seems that that dream may come to an end.
“So what I'd like to do is also I want to tell you also that my garden gets a clear view of that 40 story smokestack giving me the finger out my kitchen window every morning. And I'm exactly downwind of that smokestack, so that on a still day—I'm less than a mile away—on a still day that is going to come down right on my head and on my garden. And in fact my garden was so affected by the previous cement plant many years ago that I cannot grow plants that like acid soil like pine trees and plants like that, because my soil is so basic from having lime rained on it all those years. And that was from a small cement plant.
“Now look, it seems to me that Hudson can go two ways: Either we will go the way of international corporation coming in and treating us like—I mean, what are we Bulgaria back in 1934 that people come in and burn coal? That to me is absolutely outrageous. So what I'm saying is either we can go that way, or we can go the way we have been going, which is to grow as naturally and grow into a beautiful, healthy community that we have begun to do. Thank you very much.”
Also known as Mrs. Greenthumbs, Cassandra was a comedienne who performed with the likes of Bill Murray as a Second City cast member, then wen ton on to become a bestselling garden writer. She adopted Hudson as her hometown in the mid-1980s, long before it was a blip on the New York Times’ radar. (In fact, according to the Times, her Mrs. Greenthumbs character was created for a performance at the Ancram Opera House.)
Gelman, who recruited Cassandra for the Regis & Kathie Lee show, had this to say about her when she was profiled in People Magazine: “The audience loves her. She's always game for a sight gag, and she's always there with a fast comeback.”
Though she appeared regularly on national TV, she was approachable and generous with her time locally, hosting many free lectures on gardening, and opening to the public the lush yard surrounding her Carpenter Gothic cottage on Union Street, which she had bought with her husband Walter Brett.
Her hilariously useful advice was peppered with wry jabs at the corny and silly things people do to ruin their yards and gardens, and laden with innuendo—often about her lust for her “handsome” husband:
“My husband chopped the bamboo down using a machete he bought from Soldier of Fortune magazine. I remember the sweat glistening on his torso. I felt like Ava Gardner in Mogambo. In a tropical frame of mind, I put on my muumuu and quickly mixed some Mai Tai cocktails. We sat on the porch, looking at the bamboo stumps, waiting for the elephants to stampede.”
The blogger and fan who found that excerpt said this of the Mrs. Greenthumbs persona:
“I love her because she was fearless and funny and culturally clued-in, and a gust of enthusiasm comes off every word she ever put to paper... When I learned that Mrs. Greenthumbs died of cancer in 2002, I took it peculiarly hard, as if she were a good friend I hadn't yet met. ”
Cassandra died far too young. After her death, some well-meaning residents took up a collection to honor Cassandra’s memory with a local horticultural project, which received many contributions.
Some contributors, however, were mortified when the committee handling the funds used them to buy corny whiskey-barrel style planters. These were filled mostly with run-of-the-mill ornamental cabbages, marigolds and the like, then positioned on corners and in front of businesses all up and down Warren Street—giving Hudson’s main drag a canned, Ye Olde feel. As I griped at the time, this was just the kind of thing which Cassandra would have gently but firmly mocked in her Mrs. Greenthumbs character. Fortunately, most of these planters have by now been removed or fallen into disuse.
Few who met Cassandra failed to get a dose of her wit and candor. She was not one to hold back an opinion, but was able to couch a barb in terms which left the targets wiser but not wounded. Her books are still widely available, and her strong Brooklyn accent comes through even on the printed page, and is still heard by readers.