Garden clubs these days 'not old ladies sitting around'

Veteran Alan Gale of Hebron checks on the vegetable garden at New Horizons Transitional Living for Homeless Veterans in Hebron. The McHenry Garden Club planted the raised vegetable garden for the transitional living center in June.
Veteran Alan Gale of Hebron checks on the vegetable garden at New Horizons Transitional Living for Homeless Veterans in Hebron. The McHenry Garden Club planted the raised vegetable garden for the transitional living center in June.

Cindy Hayden recently applied her gardening skills to a cause she’s passionate about: the welfare of military veterans.

In early June, the McHenry woman, who runs a landscaping business with her husband, persuaded fellow McHenry Garden Club members to plant a vegetable garden for the veterans housed at New Horizons Transitional Living facility in Hebron.

Not only did the club pay for the materials, but members also visited the veterans and taught them to plant and maintain their garden, which includes tomato plants, cucumbers, beans and peppers.

The mission was to provide them with a new recreational hobby and “teach them how to fish rather than just give them a fish,” Hayden said.

In gardening clubs, novices always have been able to gain valuable tips from more experienced club members when it comes to planting perennials and controlling weeds. But today’s club members also are proving they’re interested in using their green thumbs for the greater community.

Motorists along Route 120 near the sign at McHenry’s entrance can see the McHenry Garden Club’s beautification efforts, with its landscaping design and plantings.

“It’s not old ladies sitting around having tea and crumpets,” said Hayden, who joined the McHenry Garden Club in October.

The preconceived notion of “little old ladies” getting together for garden parties couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The Bull Valley Garden Club is definitely a working club,” member Debby Staley said.

Formed in 1946, the Bull Valley Garden Club has 30 active members. Unlike other garden clubs, there has to be a vacancy before the club accepts a new member.

Members come with different gardening backgrounds.

“We have some national master gardeners and a couple members who are just beginning to garden for themselves,” Staley said. “You just need to be interested and wanting to learn.”

The club makes it a priority to help brighten up the community, figuratively and literally. Members make floral arrangements with nursing home residents and send fresh-cut flowers to hospice patients. They plant spring bulbs, such as daffodils, along roadsides in Bull Valley, including Country Club Road and Bull Valley Road.

“So in the springtime, you’ll see little yellow flowers peeking out and brightening the roads,” Staley said.

Once every 10 years, the Bull Valley club organizes an elaborate garden walk for the public. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the “Bull Valley’s Garden Treasures” garden walk will feature six country gardens, each labeled with information. Guides will be on hand to answer questions and offer gardening tips. Proceeds from admission tickets go toward civic projects, including the club’s youth work at the Woodstock Public Library and native-plant restoration projects.

Fundraising, public speaking, visiting hospices and collaborating with other nonprofit groups and agencies such as The Land Conservancy of McHenry County are some activities that keep local garden clubs busy in every season.

Schools, food pantries, nursing homes, municipalities and students interested in horticulture can count on local garden clubs for a potpourri of resources.

“People who like gardening and plants tend to have good feelings about nature and are concerned about things [that affect its health],” said Lisa Haderlein, executive director of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County. “They’re not about just taking care of their own gardens. They want to expand their knowledge and be aware of what’s going on.”

The Land Conservancy’s Oak Conservation program works to protect, preserve and regenerate the region’s native oak woods. Without public efforts, the oak woods are in danger of disappearing from the local landscape within 20 years, according to the Land Conservancy.

Several garden clubs have been reliable and active supporters of the nonprofit’s cause.

“It’s such a nice relationship to have,” Haderlein said. “As a nonprofit, we depend on individuals who choose to support our mission.”

The Algonquin Garden Club, which maintains five public gardens in the village, has been around since 1929. And over the years, it has given more than $55,000 to students pursuing careers in horticulture, agriculture, environmental science and related fields.

In 2003, the club initiated a partnership with Neubert Elementary School in Algonquin to create “Diggin Daisies,” an after-school program for about 25 boys and girls in grades three through five. The students maintain their own garden on school grounds.

“We educate them in gardening, hoping to cultivate them to carry it on into their adult lives,” said Carol Weinhammer, club vice president.

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