Real Gardens

Garden Clubbing

GardenclubGarden clubs are alive and well in my part of the country.  There’s a heather society, a rose society, a rhododendron society, and each small town has its own garden club. I don’t belong to any myself, but I’ve dropped in on a few of them, usually after driving around the block three or four times looking for the church or rec hall that I should probably be familiar with after living here all this time. There’s cake and coffee, we all rise and place our hands over our hearts and say the Pledge of Allegiance, minutes of the last meeting are read, members stand up and introduce any guests they have brought, and a "program" is presented, perhaps by a local bug expert, plant breeder, or garden columnist.

Are garden clubs like this a thing of the past?  They’re certainly geared for retirees; they’re usually held in the middle of the day on a weekday, and there’s not a drop of alcohol to be found.  (Not that retirees don’t drink, or shouldn’t drink. Lord, yes, they should have a drink.)  And while membership in garden clubs and other civic organizations has been in decline since the 60s, it does seem to me that there is always a fresh crop of retirees, or self-employed people, or anyone else who has a little free time during the day, joining our local garden clubs.

What other social opportunities are there for gardeners?  Master Gardener groups, community garden volunteers, neighborhood beautification associations? 

Or does it even make sense to join a club based on a shared interest in gardening? Would you rather be part of a social circle that shares your political beliefs, has kids the same age as yours, works in the same profession, enjoys the same vices, etc.?

It’s been a while since we’ve had a poll, so I ask you:

Posted by on September 17, 2007 at 5:31 am, in the category Real Gardens.
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19 responses to “Garden Clubbing”

  1. Gloria says:

    Amy, I love the way you word your polls.
    Garden related education and actual getting your hands dirty community gardens is preferred. I like gardeners, especially those hell bent on changing the world by spreading the word.Next best kind of folk is wildlife conservationists.The tree keepers in Chicago through the Openlands project are a bunch of anarchists if ever there were. They take politics to a whole other place.Lots of fun contrary to accepted opinion around here.
    treekeepers…
    http://www.openlands.org/urbangreening.asp?pgid=279
    start a community garden on a vacant lot…
    http://www.openlands.org/urbangreening.asp?pgid=108
    Master Gardener program…
    http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/cook/mgchicago/index.html

  2. susan harris says:

    Amy, you might have accurately described garden clubs of my mother’s generation, but not the ones led and populated by gardeners of my generation and younger. My local garden club was dying a slow death til we took it on line with a Yahoo group – the heart of the club and local gardening community. Almost all of us have day jobs, so the events are at night or on weekends, with no Pledge of Allegiance or business meeting at all, just good gardening and enviro information. So its purpose is informational first and friendships sometimes develop as a side benefit.
    These days my interests are more in activism than information, so I’ve turned my attention to community greening projects, like the ones the DC Urban Gardeners are involved with.

  3. eliz says:

    We have hosta, daylily, orchid, bonsai, and koi/pond clubs last I checked. There are also small garden clubs for individual neighborhoods and towns. These people do a lot of good in their communities and have nice events. For example, they do work at senior centers and some of them organize plant shows at the botanical gardens–as the orchid and bonsai clubs do. They have plant swaps, etc.

    The no drinking thing is a definite problem for me.

  4. I’m glad you chose this topic as it’s very timely for what’s going on in my life. The Berkeley Garden Club seems to be the kind you’re talking about – obviously catering to retirees because the meetings are held when most people are at work. However, there are many other garden clubs and plant societies in the Bay Area. Some thriving, some limping. I just stepped up to become president of our local chapter of California Rare Fruit Growers because the chapter was in real danger of folding. (Someone else stepped up at the last minute so we’re Co-Presidents now.) This despite the fact that I just joined 3 years ago and am still a novice at the art of fruit-growing.

    You’re right that the social demographic is not one I would have sought to party with. But the point of garden clubs for me is to share knowledge. In fact, I joined the CRFG because I felt so profoundly grateful for all the free information they gave me without once trying to sell me on membership. Though I wouldn’t have sought out socializing with folks who are largely two decades my elders, it’s been rewarding. There are some fine folks with MINDBLOWING amounts of knowledge about growing things.

    Socially, I probably have more in common with the folks involved in permaculture groups and community gardens. But I have plenty of land in my back yard (more than I can handle with my disability, actually) so I don’t community garden. And I haven’t hooked up with any permaculture groups yet. Didn’t all the Garden Ranters have a blast hanging out with each other at the Buffalo Garden Walk? And hanging out with other Garden Walkers? Isn’t that a “garden club” of sorts?

    Anyway, I am interested in a lot of different gardening subjects and have always been a generalist. So a year ago I got the idea to have a garden club fair where garden clubs, plant societies, habitat restoration groups, community gardens, school gardens, prison gardens, etc. could have informational tables and talk face-to-face with gardeners. And individual gardeners could meet and talk with one another, swap garden books/mags, etc. The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden agreed it was a good idea and has let me co-organize it with them. So if you live in the SF Bay Area and think gardening is not synonymous with “solitary”, please attend Cross-Pollination: Gardeners Unite! on Sept. 23rd.

    http://upcoming.yahoo.com/event/218630

  5. sandra says:

    I wasn’t so happy with the poll wording. The first three highlight sociability, and the third is definately virtuous. The last two are definately clubs I don’t want to belong to.
    In this small town the local garden society is just a social club and hardly talks about plants or gardens at all but does do ‘crafts’. There is a community garden run by and for the local food bank. I don’t belong to either, but I do have a group of friends where our primary interest is gardens, and we swop information and plants on an informal basis.
    So where does that put me on the poll?

  6. chuck b. says:

    Plant societies seem to be the thing now, not garden clubs. I belong to the California Native Plant Society and I have membership at the San Francico Botanical Garden. I volunteer extensively at the latter, but not so much the former. And just today it happens that I joined CalHort.

    There are several active plant societies in SF; rose, dahlia, succulent, bromeliad, begonia, gesnarium, bonsai all come immediately to mind. Many of them meet at the bldgs assoc. with the Bot Garden, and while there on other business I noticed that the bonsai and bromeliad groups in particular both seemed to have hip-looking youngish participants. (btw, young, in my mind, is my age, thirtysomething.)

  7. Michelle says:

    I love my garden club, if you can call it that.
    We’re more a bunch of zealous hort-heads who love to travel any where on this earth to see fabuuuuuulous gardens and hear other fanatical gardeners chat it up about cutting edge garden design, great plants and art in the garden.
    We have no regularly scheduled meetings but do have a newsletter that alerts us all to the next upcoming series of ‘garden Party tours’ – that’s a capital “P” in the word Party.
    We’ve partied in gardens in Bali, LA, Santa Barbara, The Pacific North West and other points beyond as well as lots and lots of gardens here in the S.F. Bay area.

    I also am a card carrying member of the Cal Hort Society ( hey Chuckb, hope to see you at tomorrows meeting ) and the Garden Conservancy and attend a variety of other garden ‘society’ club meetings and events but am not a member .

    The local garden club in my town of Novato is a social gathering of blue haired old ladies whose idea of a good time is a cup of luke warm tea during the mid day week day while conversing about Aunt Bee’s carnations and mums.
    So not for me. yawn.
    Nope, my garden clubbing is with The Hortisexuals, where our motto is ‘no plant is safe’.

  8. I love my garden club, if you can call it that.
    We’re more a bunch of zealous hort-heads who love to travel any where on this earth to see fabuuuuuulous gardens and hear other fanatical gardeners chat it up about cutting edge garden design, great plants and art in the garden.
    We have no regularly scheduled meetings but do have a newsletter that alerts us all to the next upcoming series of ‘garden Party tours’ – that’s a capital “P” in the word Party.
    We’ve partied in gardens in Bali, LA, Santa Barbara, The Pacific North West and other points beyond as well as lots and lots of gardens here in the S.F. Bay area.

    I also am a card carrying member of the Cal Hort Society ( hey Chuckb, hope to see you at tomorrows meeting ) and the Garden Conservancy and attend a variety of other garden ‘society’ club meetings and events but am not a member .

    The local garden club in my town of Novato is a social gathering of blue haired old ladies whose idea of a good time is a cup of luke warm tea during the mid day week day while conversing about Aunt Bee’s carnations and mums.
    So not for me. yawn.
    Nope, my garden clubbing is with The Hortisexuals, where our motto is ‘no plant is safe’.

  9. Kaye Williams says:

    I have enjoyed this site since finding it last spring and have even answered Susan’s call for “garden coaches” and am finding lots of people to coach in this area.
    Athough I guess I really must add my comments to this blog, since I fall into the category of past-pres of the Bay City Garden Club, a member of the Garden Club of America.
    Although many of the generalizations may hold true in other garden clubs, ours has been active in our community for 80 years and continues to grow. We include a wide variety of ages and interests, although gardening is our common interest. Our monthly meetings include education on many gardening as well as conservation topics. Our yearly garden walks/tours have raised funds for Habitat for Humanity, our library’s Reading Garden, the Veteran’s Memorial gardens, handicap accessible gardens, school-related science gardens and 30 years ago rehabed a river-front area with Kantzler Arboreteum.
    So, as you can see, we are thriving and would invite you or any of the Garden Ranters to any of our meetings on the 3rd Monday of the month for an “inside” perspective. I doubt if you can find any “blue-hairs” in the group, but come see for yourself.

  10. Marte says:

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with “blue hair” either. In my opinion, people are either alive, engaged, and interesting or they are “dead,” regardless of age. I am just a trifle annoyed that anyone cool enough to comment on this site (it is a very cool site!) would presume to judge anyone simply by chronological age. (Probably since I just turned 60. But if I picked my friends by this criterion, I wouldn’t have very many.) Age such a minor part of the total person. (I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking luke-warm tea though.)

  11. Meenoo says:

    I am delurking, finally, to talk about my garden club concerns. I live in Tucson where there are a lot of retirees. I want to join some kind of plant society/ garden club but I admit I am nervous in joining one that has mostly retirees. I would feel way out of place (I am in my early thirties). Is this something I need to get over? Is it wrong for me to want a group that has people my age? Maybe I have my own stereotypes of people who join garden clubs. I have never owned a house and only gardened in containers. Is that a barrier as well to joining gardening societies? Any suggestions?

  12. Meeno, I’d say it’s worth getting over it. As Marte says, age is just one component of people. I’m one of the youngest members of my group at the age of 42. It feels a bit odd sometimes, but that’s probably due to how unintegrated modern society is. There are fabulous people in every age group. If I were you, I’d find the nearest garden club that fits my interests and join. If the garden club’s mission doesn’t jibe with you, that’s another thing entirely. Then you can start your own using Craig’s List or meetup.com, which will also incidentally probably draw people closer to your age.

  13. Marte says:

    I don’t think it’s something you need to get over. I think it’s normal to want to associate with people like yourself. However, when it comes to gardening clubs, look at your motives. If you are looking for people to share information and expertise with you, perhaps older gardeners may actually have more of that? Just a thought. (Yes, I realize I am steretyping here.) If you are looking for friends to do other things with, maybe a different group would be better. Why don’t you just go to a meeting and see what happens?

  14. Oldroses says:

    The Garden Club in my town meets in the evenings during the week. Unfortunately, I work 4 PM to midnight. Fortunately, the Master Gardeners in my county hold their meetings during the day so I can attend.

  15. Meenoo says:

    Thanks for your responses, Marte and Spidra Webster. I actually want to make real live friends (not just online) who love plants and gardening. I thought about volunteering at the Botanical Gardens, hopefully I will meet people there. Or perhaps I will have to suck it up and actually go to a meeting! What’s the worst that can happen, right?
    It is also true that there aren’t any older people in my life, never have been. So I am sure I am just intimidated.

  16. susan harris says:

    Meenoo, I’d say the best friend-making possibilities are with the long-term volunteer opportunities like the one you mentioned, or through Master Gardeners. It’s hard to make friends sittign in teh audience of a garden club talk once a onth.

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