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United We Plant

Joining a Club Can Make Your Gardening Experience More Enjoyable--and Provide You With Orange County Growing Data

March 11, 2000|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What I remember most about my first garden club meeting more than a decade ago was how it made me an even more enthusiastic gardener. After the night's presentation, I bought a package of rare daffodils and planted the bulbs immediately, despite the chilly night air.

Since that first meeting, the allure of garden clubs hasn't faded for me. I still experience that same sense of excitement when I share my passion for plants with other like-minded individuals.

This is the mission of a good garden club meeting: It lets you dream about how to improve your garden and gives you the tools to make that dream garden a reality.

These clubs provide gardeners the opportunity to share ideas and gather information and resources. There are some general clubs, but most tend to specialize in particular plant types, such as roses, or in a general philosophy, such as organic gardening.

Most clubs share a similar format. There are monthly meetings that last about two hours. They include general announcements and a program on a particular topic of interest to members. There is a question-and-answer period, followed by "social time," when plants and seeds are exchanged, and refreshments--usually culled from the garden--are served.

The annual dues--usually from $6 to $15 a year--are a bargain, since they include access to meetings, a newsletter, discounts on gardening supplies, field trips to growing grounds and gardens, and instruction from other members.

A big benefit of belonging to a garden club is access to unusual plants, which members often can buy at a discount or receive free as cuttings and seeds.

Plant-sharing helps build a garden with a variety of plants, says Nola Skyler of Huntington Beach, who has been a member of the Horticultural Society of Orange County for a dozen years. "Members will bring cuttings and plants for sharing, and if you want a specific plant, all you usually have to do is make an announcement and the next meeting someone will bring you a plant or a cutting."

"The opportunities you have as a member of a garden club or society aren't generally available to individual gardeners," says Newport Beach gardener Lillian Biesiadecki, a member of the Orange County Rose Society since the mid-1980s. "Not only do we learn about new and different rose varieties before they are released to the public, we have an entree into places we wouldn't otherwise be able to visit."

In 1996, Biesiadecki organized a tour for Rose Society members to visit gardens and nurseries in England and Paris. They also were given a private tour of the Royal National Rose Society's headquarters.

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All clubs may not take members overseas, but most feed a gardener's constant thirst for knowledge.

"I've found it helpful to hear about the experiences of members who live in the area, because they have the same micro-climate as I," says Anaheim gardener Dennis Glowniak, a 10-year member of the California Organic Gardening Club. "Finding out which plants do well here and which are more challenging to grow is not something you're going to find in books."

Many of the gardening secrets shared are cutting-edge, says Skyler of the Horticultural Society.

"I've noticed that many of the helpful tips shared in meetings end up in gardening books," she says. "A couple of years ago I told the group about how I had been cutting up old Venetian blinds and using them as plant markers, and I just read about doing that recently."

The expertise found among members is unmatched, says Betty Torrey, an Orange gardener who has belonged to the Orange County Rare Fruit Growers since the early 1970s. "We have a pool of experts on just about any subject regarding rare fruit, and if they don't know the answer, they'll direct you to someone who does," she says.

While members are initially attracted to clubs because of a prior interest in gardening, over time many find themselves getting more deeply involved.

"There are people who have three rosebushes when they join, and 100 bushes within a year," says Biesiadecki, who has become a rose exhibitor, judge and consulting rosarian as a result of her involvement with the Orange County Rose Society and its national counterpart, the American Rose Society.

Huntington Beach gardener Herb Wilkinson was a hobbyist before joining the begonia and fern societies several years ago but has since become an expert on the two plant groups. He lectures at least once a month.

"I had been growing begonias and ferns, but not to the extent I now grow them," says Wilkinson, who specializes in a little-known type of trailing begonia and donates rare ferns he has grown to public gardens.

Even if you don't become an expert, being a member opens doors, says Geri Cibellis of Villa Park, a 10-year member and past president of the Orange County Organic Gardening Club.

"If I hadn't joined the club, I doubt that I would have had the pleasure of trying things like bok choy, daikon radishes and Chinese broccoli," says Cibellis.

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