Garden Societies

Dunn Gardens is about to host a gathering of the Seattle Garden Club by way of thanks for their considerable generosity over the years.

Dunn Gardens is about to host a gathering of the Seattle Garden Club by way of thanks for their considerable generosity over the years. Besides annual donations the Club has paid for a heritage tree assessment, a tree restoration project, and replacing the historic lath house over the years; much needed initiatives that are outside of the Garden’s budget.

Dunn Gardens has a long history with the Seattle Garden Club as evidenced in this image taken in 1939. Arthur Dunn was a supporter and is seen here entertaining two members. Oh my! It is a delightful period shot that makes me both smile and cringe. The smile is thinking about the gardening conversation the folks were having on a pleasant summer day in a more relaxed time. And given Seattle’s recent history, in clean air. The cringe relates to the need, as dictated by the mores of the day, to take such trouble with dressing for tea. (Where did those ladies store their hats?)

 Anyway, having garden club members in the Dunn got me thinking about the whole concept of such clubs. It turns out the first and oldest organized garden club in the US is the Ladies’ Garden Club of Athens, Georgia. It started with twelve women in 1891 who shared plants and plant cuttings. The movement grew to national proportions by 1913 when the Garden Club of America was formed of which the Seattle Garden Club has been a part since 1917.

There is no telling what the actions of a few women can lead to. The Garden Club now has over 200 clubs, 18,000 members and awarded over $308,400 in merit-based awards.

At the local level Dunn Gardens has been lucky to secure the services of the Broadview Garden Club in the vegetable garden. Spearheaded by Katy Dwyer, members of the club have tilled our vegetable patch this summer and provided the Bitter Lake Food Bank with supplies of vegetables and herbs. They have reported that the latter is not often donated and is most welcome.

The presence of garden clubs does not preclude informal ones from forming, of course, and the notion is still as alive and well as it was in 1913. I once led a Dunn tour with five women who were exceptionally good friends and most interested in gardening besides. They told me they met at one member’s garden each week. The tasks are executed under the direction of the garden owner and many of them are collective—moving logs and branches that would be difficult to do alone. Sounded to me as a dirt-in-nails gardener, like a recipe for a treasured time each week.

In a previous life I taught in a small county school that had a periodic newsletter –we often posted recipes and pleas for seeds and cuttings for particular plants from mothers who were bound by a love of gardening. Any school event turned into a garden one as well as the women would arrive with plants to swap. They left them outside the front door. Visitors not in the know could be forgiven for thinking they were in the wrong place when they turned up to see the kids perform. I would wager the tradition is still maintained such is the pull of gardening.

There is another garden organization that is somewhere between clubs and informal groups; those dedicated to particular plants. The American Orchid Society is a giant among these groups but the passion for other plants is extraordinary among the devotees. And this enthusiasm is powerful. At a recent garden fair I purchased five varieties of fuchsia based on a conversation with an advocate. When my husband and I downsized to a smaller yard the fuchsias were the first plants I dug up for my new Eden.

It doesn’t really need saying but one of the most significant pulls of garden societies of all stripes is the kinship they provide. Upon arriving in Seattle in 2006 I secured a P-Patch, themselves their own particular garden society. My designated spot was neglected and waist high in weeds. It took some solid work to get it cleared. The month being late June I was impatient to plant so I decided upon using the community rototiller to dig in the needed compost. Amazingly, it cranked up on first pull and I was off. Not so amazingly the rototiller bounced along the top of the dirt making no progress at all. A man watching me opined with a straight face that I had not tilled before and I had no choice but to agree. He took over and in five minutes the ground was as soft as a baby’s blanket. Three other gardeners showed up with strawberries, squash and tomato plants. In half an hour I had a planted garden and, better yet, felt to be among friends.

Of course, those of us associated with the Dunn like to think it is its own kind of garden society and visitors will feel part of it. Tour season is again open in September through the end of October when the fall magic happens. Don’t forget though members can bring in three guests for a wander on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Love to have you so we can chat about gardens and plantings as people in garden societies are want to do.







Arthur Dunn with Seattle Garden Club copy