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Gardening Gurus

Wilton Garden Club Ladies Know How to Dig



Growing and maintaining any kind of garden in New England, particularly after a winter like the one we’ve just endured, comes with a multitude of challenges. This makes the accomplishments of the Wilton Garden Club, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, pretty impressive.

Long before “green” became gospel, the Garden Club was committed to land conservation, preservation, education, and beautification. Since 1921, its members have volunteered their time to raise awareness of local environmental issues. Along the way, they have created and nurtured gardens that have survived the test of time, deer, and other flower-hungry fauna. “The most common misconception people have about us is that we’re just ladies who lunch,” said club president Carol Steiner. “We do a lot more than that.”

They certainly do. Their collective green thumbs have landscaped the Wilton Post Office, train station, library, and public schools, and created the flower baskets hanging from the lampposts in Wilton Center. They maintain several gardens in town, including the oval bed at Horseshoe Pond Park, and the Grotto Garden of native and exotic perennials behind Old Town Hall. In fact, in 1934 the Garden Club rescued Old Town Hall from demolition.

In the greenhouse it owns and operates at Comstock Community Center, the club offers horticulture instruction, garden therapy programs for senior citizens, and Girl Scout classes on propagation, seed starting, and greenhouse operation. They also grow plants for their annual Mother’s Day Plant sale, the club’s primary fundraiser. “Many plants start as cuttings from mother plants or seeds,” explained Steiner. “It’s interesting to see the progression from an empty greenhouse in September to a full one by the plant sale.”

Plants for the sale also come from members’ own gardens. “Every spring, we hold digs at members’ houses and pot up the plants. Each member takes home at least 25 plants and babysits them for a few weeks until the sale,” Steiner said.

The sale, held on the Town Green, and scheduled for May 6 through 7, raises funds to help cover Garden Club program and operations costs, and contributions to local organizations that promote environmental education, conservation and horticulture. One recipient, Weir Farm, uses the money to maintain the Vera Breed Sunken Garden, named for the 1933-34 Garden Club President who designed it. The Wilton Library, another beneficiary, purchases plant and gardening books with the funds it receives.

The club takes on several other projects throughout the year. At their annual wreath-making workshop, they create festive greenery for Wilton’s municipal buildings and war memorials. They also make holiday decorations for the Department of Social Services to give to the homebound and residents in need.

To celebrate its 90th anniversary, the club is planning a flower show at the Wilton Library on September 16 through 17 with a cocktail party fundraiser on the 17th. The event, tentatively themed “Ninety Years of Fun, Friends, and Flowers,” will include horticulture classes and floral design demonstrations. The show is free and open to the public. As the celebration date approaches, more information will be available at wiltongardenclub.org.

According to past President Jerre Dawson, the club currently has 135 members. “Membership has declined recently,” she said, “partly due to retirees moving out of town and people returning to work because of the economy.” Monthly meetings, held from September through May, often include guest speakers who share their expertise on topics ranging from pruning and organic land care to nature photography.
“Anyone interested in becoming a member is invited to attend a meeting,” advised membership co-chair Francesca Monroe. “We are always looking for people who will be active participants. New members need to be sponsored by an existing member, or speak to me or my co-chair Elizabeth Craig about joining,” she said. “A provisional member fills out a membership form, pays provisional dues and helps out with the plant sale.” Adds Steiner, “As a Wilton Garden Club member, you can make friends, learn a lot, and have fun.”

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