Garden clubs aim for sustainable beauty
Everyone talks about climate change, but who is doing anything about it?
How about the 3,600 or so gardeners who are members of Maryland’s 99 Federated Garden Clubs (FGC)?
The clubs, which began back in 1926, are part of the National Garden Clubs, a St. Louis-based nonprofit that is the largest volunteer gardening organization in the world.
Its Baltimore City chapters include Bolton Hill, Mt. Royal, Mt. Washington, For-Win-Ash, Guilford and the Woman’s Club of Roland Park.
Baltimore County’s clubs include Catonsville, Green Spring Valley, Lake Roland, Hampton, Wiltondale in the Towson area, and Lutherville, which is especially active.
People can choose any local club they wish; members are not required to join the club closest to their neighborhood.
Environmentalism starts at home
At the club meetings, members swap stories and give advice. “A big topic is conservation of the environment, because we are all concerned about climate change,” said Jackie Handley, past officer and parliamentarian of FGC.
The club’s environmental courses, which follow the national organization’s curriculum, teach members how to eliminate polluting chemicals, manage storm water runoff, get rid of non-native species and restore original habitats.
Anna O’Kelly learned about the garden clubs when she relocated from New Jersey 30 years ago. She moved into a house with an existing garden in Anne Arundel County and wanted to keep it looking beautiful.
“I knew nothing about gardening,” said O’Kelly, who is now first vice president of FGC. “The first step was to learn how to take care of the shrubs, trees and perennials the previous owners had planted.
“By adding natives such as black-eyed Susans, bee balm — hummingbirds love it — and spiderwort to attract butterflies, the garden has evolved,” she said.
O’Kelly learned everything she knows about gardening from fellow members and the classes offered by FGC. Courses range from gardening, landscape design and environmental conservation, to a program called flower show school, which trains people to be judges at flower shows.
Each club offers four two-day courses in those areas of interest, at a cost of about $100 each. All classes are open to non-members, and people who complete four courses can earn certification as a consultant, which enables them to serve on one of the club’s active councils.
The group’s Landscape Design School educates students in landscape design and community landscape planning. After students complete four courses and pass an exam, they become design consultants who help to establish educational programs, scholarships and awards for promoting better landscape design.
Putting knowledge to good use
“We have a wonderful education program with professional speakers,” Handley said. She belongs to two garden clubs herself, and says she “looks forward to the camaraderie of meetings.”
For instance, in June, Handley’s fellow club members toured each other’s home gardens. Discussions at meetings range from planting advice to pest control.
Club members then bring that knowledge into the real world, to places like Cylburn Arboretum on Greenspring Avenue. The current state president of FGC is overseeing a storm water runoff management program at Cylburn. The group also works with Cylburn to offer programs open to the public throughout the year, including a daffodil show in April.
Maryland roadsides are no longer cluttered with billboards, thanks in part to the FGC’s efforts. The group has also helped the Chesapeake Bay Foundation select plant species that contribute to a healthy aquatic environment and protect watershed areas.
The organization also seeks to beautify historic properties. For example, it has contributed grants for gardening projects at the Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis, Historic Hampton, near Towson, and the Rawlings Conservatory, the famous glass greenhouse in Druid Hill Park.
Chances to volunteer, take trips
Members of the clubs range from rank amateur to master gardener. Everyone is welcome, Handley said. “We are a very diversified group from all walks of life.”
Volunteer opportunities spring up throughout the year. Following the tradition of the parent National Garden Clubs, club members place Blue Star memorial markers alongside highways to honor service people who fought in World War II. Other markers are placed in Rawlings Conservatory.
In addition to a trip abroad this year to tour gardens in England, clubs plan trips around Maryland or Delaware to intriguing, off-the-beaten-path destinations, such as Queen Anne’s County Home and Garden Pilgrimage, Secret Gardens of Oxford and Sang Run Park near Deep Creek Lake.
The clubs also recognize and reward Maryland’s superior gardeners. A program overseen by the group’s Gardening Consultants Council offers a cash award for the best container garden (defined as a collection of two or more pots that enhance a public space or support the mission of a nonprofit organization). An award is also given for an edible garden that provides a public service or supports the mission of a nonprofit.
To join a club, whether near you or not, call the administrator at Cylburn Arboretum at (410) 396-4842. Dues, which vary from $30 to $100 annually, fund a variety of programs that include professional speakers and hands-on projects.
Existing garden clubs meeting specific qualifications can join the organization via an online form available at Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland’s website, fgcofmd.org.