Banish any image of garden clubs that are the exclusive domain of silver-haired ladies who sip tea and arrange flowers. Garden clubs are more relevant than ever, and today, there’s plenty of potential for men and women of all ages—even kids—to get together and learn about growing food. Whether you’ve been farming for years or are gardening in containers on your patio while saving up for the farm of your dreams, gardeners of all skill levels and interests have a lot in common.
A modern garden club can forget the flower arranging and focus on things like:
- garden design
- growing better crops
- improving the soil
- seeing how other people garden
- attracting pollinators
- using the harvest for year-round enjoyment
My garden club—the Asheville E-Z Gardeners founded in the winter of 2010—is a diverse group of men and women between their late 20s and late 60s that range from garden novices to garden professionals. We do community services projects together, we plant hundreds of flower bulbs, and wine—not tea—is our beverage of choice. We have a blast improving our community, meeting new friends, and learning new gardening techniques from one another. In an era where it’s easy to get all your gardening knowledge from the Internet, our monthly real-life garden club meetings have the awesome power to connect people of disparate backgrounds for a common purpose: gardening.
If you’re craving the opportunity to get to know people who love growing food as much as you do, here are some suggestions for organizing a modern garden club of your own.
1. Spread The Word
Talk to a diverse mix of people about your gardening club idea—they don’t have to be the same age or background as you. Start out by reaching out to people who have a common gardening interest, such as permaculture gardening or growing medicinal herbs. You can always expand out from there, but it will help you attract members with a vested interest. My club started with 10 charter members and has since grown to 24.
2. Structure Your Meetings
Discuss with your core members when, where and how often you should meet. What kind of programs will you offer? You could have round-table discussions about a certain topic or prepare a fun activities for each meeting, like building tomato cages or doing seed-starting demos. Your structure can be flexible, but give people an idea of how they will benefit from joining your club. If you’re willing to do the initial organizational work, others will soon join in.
3. Communicate With Your Group
Take advantage of modern communication tools to make sure everyone in your group knows what’s happening and can contribute their ideas.Our garden club uses Doodle to schedule our meetings and a Google Doc roster that can be updated anytime. We vote by email on routine business to keep our meeting times fun and efficient. And we have a Facebook page for attracting new members and posting events and photos.
4. Explore Garden Resources In Your Community
Why tie a club down with a set agenda? Instead, look for opportunities that present expert advice, interesting plant collections or your own members’ efforts. Vary your meetings to keep people engaged and attract new participants.
5. Have Goals And Make It Fun
The goal of my garden club is simple: to improve our lives and our community through gardening. We have decided not to take on long-term maintenance of civic flower beds, as some garden clubs do, but instead enjoy “pop-up” dates for weeding or planting around town. It’s amazing what 10 people can do in an hour.
6. Call On Everyone To Contribute
The skill level in the Asheville E-Z Gardeners includes a few members who admit to being clueless about plants and a few who are national garden authorities. But everyone brings something to the mix, and because we take turns planning programs, we all gain fresh perspectives.
7. Take Your Club To The Next Level
The formation of the Asheville E-Z Gardeners began with a simple letter: “I wonder if you would like to help start a new garden club …” Membership grew quickly, and we decided to affiliate with two overseeing organizations: The Garden Club of North Carolina and National Garden Clubs. This isn’t necessary for a new club, but we’ve found that gives us some structure and impetus to share our gardening energy in the community.
As part of a larger organization we help raise scholarship money for college students in horticulture, we are challenged to use gardening as therapy for shut-ins, and we become part of a statewide voice to preserve green space along our highways.
Over the club’s five-year history we have:
- participated in state Litter Sweep campaigns, helped clear overgrown riverside property to create parkland, converted a parking lot to a community garden, and created bouquets for hospice patients
- held tutorials about growing certain plants
- toured notable private gardens in our community
- started an annual plant sale where we raise money and dish out plant advice
- shared a lot of wine and a lot of laughs
Beginning gardeners take note: Starting a garden club is a great way to share your successes and failures with a non-judgmental group of people. Along the way, you might find you’re sharing all sorts of new knowledge and plants, too.