Sharing gardening love
On July 21, Silver Spring Country Club hosted about 130 members of the Bethlehem Garden Club (BGC), which is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year. Dedicated to educating members and the community about gardening, sharing tips and experiences, and supporting civic planting to beautify areas around Bethlehem, the club meets on the third Thursday of every month at Advent Moravian Church.
Each month the BGC invites speakers to share stories and expertise on a variety of garden-related topics. The group offers workshops and classes in design and horticulture and invites its members to compete in six mini-tournaments and contests held at its monthly meetings.
The group has also created a scholarship for horticultural students from the Bethlehem area. Interested students submit an application which is reviewed by a committee who awards tuition assistance for one year of college.
In the 1970s, the club volunteered to restore the Garden of Serenity, located next to the Bethlehem Public Library, which had fallen into disrepair. For over 40 years, members have overseen, twice restored, and maintained the garden, originally designed by landscape architect Yoshnga Sakon. In 2006, the Garden of Serenity won the Suburban Greening Award from the PA Historical Society.
The club also designed, planted, and maintains an 1870s-period garden near the Millers House in Historic Bethlehem’s Industrial area. Sharon Donchez coordinates about 18 volunteers and BGC members who work Thursday mornings from April to October, planting, pruning and weeding the garden.
“They’re absolutely wonderful volunteers who are very invested in what we’re doing,” Donchez says.
The garden has received several awards including the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania’s Preservation of Beauty Award and the Golden Trowel Award from Garden Design magazine. The Herb Quarterly also featured the garden, based on a Germanic four-square design, which Donchez says they strive to plant with herbs, flowers, and vegetables common to mid-to-late 19th century gardens.
In 2012, the Bethlehem Garden Club added the garden in front of the Bach Choir offices, at the Heckewelder House, to its list of gardens that members actively cultivate and care for.
Current president Trish Mowen says that one of the club’s long-standing goals is to increase awareness and outreach and grow the club’s membership. She has focused on the club’s mentorship program which, Mowen believes, is an integral part of making sure that all members, especially those newer to the club, feel included.
“It’s important to pair up people who are interested in sharing their knowledge with newer or less involved members. Some members work on the three gardens we care for, but we try to find a place where everyone is comfortable,” Mowen says.
Years ago, she says, new members were matched with a sponsor to guide them which is why the organization has added a mentoring chair and committee of greeters to welcome people interested in the club.
“We lose 10 to 20 members each year,” Mowen says, “because some move, or some are too busy. Some drop out after their first or second year never to be heard from again. My bet is that many do not feel welcome and included in our club activities. It’s a really brave person who perseveres in finding their place in our organization.”
Mentor chairperson Barbara Myers agrees.
“We don’t want to intimidate anyone or put anyone on the spot so that they feel they have to have a talent to ‘get in,’” Myers says. “But it’s nice for the newer members to see a friendly face, especially as our programs might change from month to month a bit. Older members can facilitate things or give insight and show new members the ropes.”
Second vice president Martin Romeril says that what he loves best about the club is meeting other people and sharing in each other’s gardening successes.
“My family’s grown dahlias since my dad planted the first varieties in 1933. We currently have about 89 plants including 45 to 50 varieties,” he says. “My mom also loves and plants peonies, too. It really is fun to come share what’s grown and what’s unique and to compare to what others in the club are growing.”
The Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, of which the Bethlehem Garden Club is a part, also encourages each of its member organizations to evolve, Mowen says, taking cues from trends and member interest.
“We recently offered a program called ‘Gardening for Birds and Butterflies,’” Mowen says, “which also included information about other pollinators like bees and provided information about creating pollinator-friendly gardens that used plants local to Pennsylvania.”
Another meeting focused on offering native replacements for exotic invasives which, Mowen says, can present a real challenge to gardeners who want large variety and who may not be aware of problems caused by introducing non-native species to the area.
The club also offers trips that have included visits to the Philadelphia Flower Show, Hershey Gardens, Lavender Farmette, Tannersville Cranberry Bog, Longwood Gardens, Untermeyer Gardens in Yonkers, and Williamsburg. In the past, local florists and nurseries have offered a variety of workshops.
“Our ultimate goal is to share our love of horticulture with others,” Mowen says, “and to share our love of gardening, wildlife, preserving and celebrating the natural environment.”
Visit the organization’s website, www.bethlehemgardenclub.org, for more information.