Garden club volunteers dig deep to transform and beautify towns and communities across Kentucky
Cheerful containers spill over with colorful blooms on Main Street, gleaming black benches invite weary shoppers to sit a spell, and neat-as-a-pin alleyways are swept free of debris—chances are, they are the labor of love of your local garden club.
Garden clubs have taken root across the state, filling a much-needed and valued role in the maintenance and beautification of Kentucky’s public spaces.
“Depending on what the needs of the community are and what the clubs get involved in, you can see the diversity in the projects they do all over the state,” says Dianne Caines, a member of The Garden Club of Frankfort and president of The Garden Club of Kentucky.
A member of National Garden Clubs Inc., the state headquarters for Kentucky’s 75 or so garden club affiliate members is located in Paris in the circa 1850 Wallis House, an 18-room manse on the National Register of Historic Places. The club maintains the Nannine Clay Wallis Arboretum—named for one of the founding members—an educational facility that is home to one of the finest old tree collections in central Kentucky.
Garden club outreach may include planting and pruning blighted or available areas, clearing trash, restoring gates, creating entrances, writing garden-related brochures, recycling batteries and ink cartridges, recycling other items as yard art, and hosting events to raise money for specific projects and to fund scholarships for students planning to study agriculture or horticulture in college.
“People think of a garden club as sweet little old ladies sipping tea,” says Gloria Galloway, president of the Laurel Oak Garden Club of Mayfield, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. “But we’re a very active group of workers.”
Last year, this club took on the beautification of Mayfield’s Courthouse Square at the suggestion of its mayor and fellow garden club member Teresa Cantrell. The project involved pruning trees and shrubs; planting weeping cherry trees and lemon cypress shrubs in front of the jail, whose contemporary lines were at odds with the architecture of the historic courthouse; installing enormous planter boxes that were augmented with 20 large pots and filling them with colorful annuals; and nestling existing memorial stones within the lush foliage of Knock Out roses and perennials.
No shrinking violets, Laurel Oak Garden Club members created entryways and restored the iron gates at Maplewood Cemetery, maintain several public gardens, including those at the public library and the historic Ice House, and transformed the derelict 437-foot-long ravine situated in a high-traffic area. Here, they removed two dump trucks filled with trash, pulling weeds and planting 60 white crape myrtle trees, 36 lemon cypress shrubs, and 24 hot pink Knock Out roses.
“It looks like a city park now instead of a trash-filled ditch,” Galloway says. “It’s getting out there and doing the work and making a visible change in the community.”
“Clubs choose their projects based on their interests, their perception of what might be needed within the community, or what requests or activities they are involved with through working with other organizations—schools, civic groups, tourism agencies, and others—within their communities,” notes Caines.
Last year the 71-member Garden Club of Danville partnered with Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill for the first time to decorate its entrance, the Trustees’ Office Dining Room, the West Lot Dwelling House, and all the gates and lampposts for the holidays. And for more than 30 years, the club has been decorating Danville’s Historic McDowell House, with members fashioning fresh, white pine wreaths to garnish the home’s exterior and making period florals for the rooms within.
“A Green Tea, open to the public, is then held at our club’s expense,” says Sarah Wiltsee, president. “Admission is free, and donations are all given to one or two of our local charities. This year our club raised almost $600 to be given to Family Services and the local Salvation Army.”
Additionally, the Garden Club of Danville maintains three public gardens, including the Apothecary Garden at the Ephraim McDowell House, which demonstrates the types of herbs grown for medical and home remedies, the Mary Akin Memorial Kitchen Herb Garden at Constitution Square, and the entrance to the Humane Society’s facility in Danville. Members are also involved in the Secret Garden at Woodlawn Elementary School—a teaching garden focusing on the study of plants and their care—and the Community Vegetable Garden, located in a previously unused city lot near Constitution Square, open to anyone who wants to plant, weed, and harvest the fresh produce that is free for the taking. Member James Ross, of the local Saturday morning WHBN AM radio show Gardening with James, was instrumental in creating this garden, which, Wiltsee says, is “always open, never guarded, free to all.” She says the lack of security has never been a problem.
Garden club projects typically go through an approval process, either with members agreeing on a specific idea or by the club’s board of directors voting on projects put before it in writing. And projects are funded in a variety of ways, including dues, selling garden-related goods, and holding garden tours, auctions, or events.
The members of the Glasgow Garden Club bring items to their monthly meetings to sell to each other, with profits going into the club’s general fund. Last year they sold gardening gloves—bought primarily by members for friends and family—as a fund-raiser and netted more than $600.
“The year before, we had a ‘cake walk’ type venture at one of our meetings and gave members donated prizes other than cakes,” says Linda Craiger, club treasurer. “We’ve had luncheons in the past, where members cook the lunch and sell tickets primarily to themselves and give to friends.
“Basically, it’s the members who put most of the money into the pot.”
For the Kentucky Home Extension Master Gardeners of Nelson County, the annual Blooming Bardstown Garden Tour is their biggest undertaking and fund-raiser each year. An auction takes place the same day to raise money for college scholarships.
“Last year the club gave away $4,000 in scholarships,” says Robbie Smith, the Nelson County Extension agent for horticulture. “All garden organizations will bring a different skill set to their communities and their philanthropy will come in different ways, but I believe it is important that giving back should be a founding spirit within all groups.”
For more info and a list and accompanying Web sites of member garden clubs across the state, go online to The Garden Club of Kentucky at www.GardenClubKy.org.
TAPPING INTO YOUR INNER GARDEN CLUB MEMBER
Gloria Galloway, president of the Laurel Oak Garden Club of Mayfield, has this to say to would-be garden club members who may question their skills.
“Anyone can do it. You just go in and do the cleanup work, prune the area, and then decide if you’re going to plant the area—because if you plant it, you have to maintain it. Start small, then add on to your garden as your confidence increases. Don’t be afraid to rearrange your garden like you would your living room. Make changes each season until you have the look you want.”
Test your abilities with these small-scale garden club projects:
• Refresh old flowerpots by hot gluing rocks to them.
• Recycle garden cast-offs: Wrap a grapevine wreath with an old garden hose to create a garland effect. Cut the handle off a garden rake and place it at an angle to the wreath. Add pine cones with hot glue; for a three-dimensional look try hydrangea blossoms (this spring garden wreath can be kept year after year; just replace the hydrangeas).
n Spruce up a special place then make a simple brochure to tell about its history. That’s what the Kentucky Home Extension Master Gardeners of Nelson County did a couple years ago. The club chooses one public garden every year to be on its annual garden tour and then helps prepare it. One year it was Bardstown’s Veteran’s Memorial Park; once the grounds were cleaned up, the club prepared a simple, informational brochure.
• Recycle your Halloween pumpkins: spray-paint them a bright color, turn them upside-down in your planter box with some holly branches tucked underneath, and they become a large Christmas ornament.
• Trim a small, potted Christmas tree with bird nests, hang beribboned seed packets from the branches, and scrunch hydrangea blossoms into the tree.
• For Christmas, spray-paint summer ferns—usually lush until the end of fall—silver or gold for an outdoor holiday display on either side of your front door. They’ll look good through January.
• Members of the Glasgow Garden Club routinely recycle items, sometimes turning them into yard art. Several of its members took two bowls, assorted coat hangers, and an air-conditioning unit’s cover to the Barren County Area Technology Center in Glasgow, where students welded them together and turned them into a spider that is now on display along the Weldon Park Walking Trail at the Native Plant Habitat.
SPRING GARDEN CLUB TOURS
Garden Club of Danville Garden Tour features eight gardens, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For ticket information, admission, and more info, go online to www.TheGardenClubofDanville.org.
Franklin County Master Gardeners’ Plant Sale, 7:30 a.m., Old Capitol Grounds, Frankfort. For more info, call (502) 227-2190.
Laurel Oak Garden Club Garden Tour, Mayfield, includes five gardens, seated lunch and lectures, vendors with garden items, and member-potted seedlings and bulbs from their own gardens; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Lunch is held 11 a.m.-1 p.m. with lectures taking place during lunch at 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. Admission: $12. For tickets and more info, call Mayfield City Hall, (270) 247-1981.
Kentucky Home Extension Master Gardeners of Nelson County’s Tenth Annual Blooming Bardstown Garden Tour & Marketplace features eight to 10 gardens on a self-guided tour, plant sale, Master G’s retail area, education programs, Art in the Garden, and more; sales area open 8 a.m.-2 p.m., gardens open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: $8 advance, $10 day of event. For more information: (502) 348-9204 or Bardstown-Nelson County Tourist & Convention Commission, (502) 348-4877 or (800) 638-4877; or go online to http://nelson.ca.uky.edu (click “Blooming Bardstown Garden Tour” under links at right).
Garden Club of Frankfort’s Historic Garden Tour, Old Capitol Grounds, Frankfort. For information call (502) 227-2190. To learn about other garden club garden tours, visit the individual clubs found at The Garden Club of Kentucky at
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: GARDEN CLUB START-UP
Itching to beautify an area in your community and willing to volunteer? Go to "start a garden club" for great tips to get started.