When you hear the words “garden club,” what comes to mind? Do you picture a group of soft-spoken, white-haired women — à la Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple — who gather for meetings, sip tea out of fine China cups, and grow African violets?
That was kind of my mental image for a long time, until I finally met some garden club members. It was then that I discovered that the word “garden” isn’t just an adjective. It’s also a verb, and these ladies actively garden, not just in their own gardens, but also in the community.
Every garden club I’ve had the privilege to meet with has at least two main reasons for gathering. One, to share with others their love of gardening and to help each other become better growers in the process. Two, to be involved with the community in some way, whether tending gardens or helping judge horticultural contests. Sometimes this extends to restoring historic gardens and grounds. For example, the Philadelphia Unit of the Herb Society of America tends the gardens at the historic Valley Forge Hospital in Historic Yellow Springs.
My friend Evie Baird is a member of both the Herb Society of America and also the Twin Valleys Garden Club, in northern Chester County. Evie emailed me recently to let me know about a project that the Club would be doing on Earth Day. “The Environmental Action Committee in East Nantmeal has asked us to do a major spring cleanup with some planting at the historic Quaker cemetery,” she wrote. “Something which hasn’t been done since the neighbor who’d been tending the garden moved away over a year ago.”
A bit of history: The presence of the Quakers in Nantmeal goes back to at least 1739, when a Meeting House was established there. Fires destroyed two early log structures, and a third Meeting House, made of stone, was demolished in 1890. What remains is a cemetery of twenty-four marked graves, and probably many unmarked graves, contained within walls constructed out of the Meeting House stones. The cemetery garden is actually outside the walled area, occupying the space between the wall and Fairview Road, a twenty-five-foot stretch. There are no gardens in the cemetery itself, just grass and trees.
Evie explained that in a true labor of love, “the garden was tended for many years by a neighbor across the street who happened to be a very fine gardener. Most of the plants she used were transplants from her own garden, along with plants from friends and other neighbors.”
Last month, on Earth Day, members of the Twin Valleys Garden Club descended on the site. Joined by the president of the East Nantmeal Historical Society and a member of the Environmental Action Committee, the group began by clearing out over a year’s worth of leaves, weeds, and debris. East Nantmeal Township provided traffic control and orange safety vests. The garden club provided fall-blooming clematis, Mexican pink primrose, and purple and yellow pansies to refresh the roadside garden.
Kudos to the Twin Valleys Garden Club for taking on this project and giving the garden at this historic site a much-needed refurbishing. The next time you drive or walk past a lovely garden area, consider that it might be the work of members of a garden club, working to enhance the natural beauty of our communities.
Note: Originating in the Pickering and Great Valleys in the late 1920’s, Twin Valleys Garden Club has grown to include members from Malvern and Charlestown, Phoenixville and Audubon, Chester Springs and West Chester, Exton and East Nantmeal. Members share an appreciation for horticulture, gardening, and floral arranging. In addition, members and guests take an active role in gardening and community service projects to benefit groups whose missions match the goals of the Club.
Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” Pam’s book for children and families, Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets, is available on Amazon, at Amazon.com/author/pamelabaxter.