A Working Garden Club
Finding a Garden Community
by Sandy Swegel
There are lots of garden clubs around. I personally belong to three and follow another two email-only groups online. When I first started gardening as an adult, I didn’t think I’d ever be a garden-club-kinda girl. Growing up in a Southern Big City, garden clubs to me meant you had to wear your best dress and go to a lovely tea with people of a certain social class in a beautifully manicured rose garden. That was just my own prejudices showing through because the love of gardening knows no class lines. However, I didn’t think I’d ever get my fingernails clean enough to go to one of those parties. With age and experience comes some wisdom and now I do go to one of those formal groups with officers and Robert’s Rules of order and I admire the community of members who have known each other for decades and who are so wise about local gardening.
I belong to another scruffier group that is especially interested in “culinary gardening” – gardens with lots of edibles. We mostly meet through email because there are quite a few market farmers and community garden volunteers so people don’t have time to meet with all the work they have to do…but any questions you ever have can be answered on our email list. We also order seeds and roots and greenhouse supplies together in bulk to save a lot of money. Every once in a while I meet someone who says they belong to this group and I have to ask their email address before I recognize them. We do have a heck of a delicious holiday party once the season ends.
A third occasional club I meet with has one primary task…to maintain a public rose garden a few times a year. So we are a kind of working group. We don’t all know each other well, but we know and love our roses.
I was at a small town garden tour yesterday and met people from a different kind of gardening club. They are a small (fewer than ten members) club who is a real WORKING group. No sitting around chatting about plants or looking at slide shows for them. Regularly they meet in one member’s garden and work for a good two hours on a garden project of the member’s choice. Naturally, this is followed by cold drinks and good food. They have met for years and welcome anyone…as long as they are willing to work to their ability. I admire this group because their gardens and knowledge have steadily improved over the years but they have also become a close-knit community based on their love of the earth and growing plants. They share in each other’s lives too and tend each others’ gardens or bring supper if someone is sick. They freely welcome newcomers to their group…if they’re willing to work.
I’m fond of saying that gardening is like the new church. Good people with shared values coming together and supporting one another in many ways and having a good time. Everyone clearly loves plants but there’s not a lot of doctrine. (well not counting opinions on pesticides.)
If I ever moved to a new town, the first thing I’d do is join a garden club. That’s the way to make true blue friends AND get more free plants.
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