On June 7 at around 3 p.m., my wife, Betty, hands off the Presidency of the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts to her successor. And I stop being presidential arm candy.
|At the dedication of a wayside|
garden in Groton, MA. That's Betty
second from the right.
Maybe ‘arm candy’ is a stretch. All right, it’s a huge stretch. But, for the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to be Betty’s designated driver when she was committed to doing two-a-day events and badly needed for someone else to be behind the wheel. The position - hers and mine - has been an eye-opener for me.
How often has Betty been on the road? Try this: Betty took her car in for its routine, 5,000-mile service earlier this year and the dealership rep did a double-take when he saw that the car had been in just three months earlier, and three months before that. “Are you in sales?” he asked. “That’s a lot of miles.” Betty said she thought about it for a moment and replied, “In a sense, yes; I guess I’m in sales.”
The Federation has more than 11,000 members in 182 clubs from the Outer Cape to Williamstown. Betty had visited 135 of those clubs over the past two years, and met the balance at regional annual luncheons and district coffees. She has logged over 15,000 miles a year without ever leaving the state. Her job, as she describes it, is to “show the flag” and be the face of what could otherwise be a faceless organization. She has also relentlessly pushed the subject of education; urging clubs to take advantage of the schools, workshops, and talks sponsored by the Federation (where she shows up to ‘give greetings’ and, not coincidentally, talk up the next workshop or school).
Has she been successful? In late March, a one-day workshop on designing wayside gardens drew 135 participants… and had to turn away 90 more because of a lack of room.
|This park in Chelmsford was built|
by one of the town's garden clubs.
For me, the remarkable part has been seeing what garden clubs do when they exercise their collective imagination to take on a project. One day last June, I drove Betty to the dedication of a park in Chelmsford. The new park sits on the site of a former fire station. Two years ago, it was a rubble-strewn lot. The Chelmsford Garden Club volunteered to make it an inviting site. They did much more than that: it is a civic showcase and a horticultural gem. Oh, and they did it in nine months.
In Topsfield, a garden club with fewer than 25 members decided to put on an environmental exposition. This year, the fourth iteration of the ‘Grow Spring Expo’ lured in more than a hundred exhibitors, and sprawled across three historic buildings around Topsfield’s Town Green (and that doesn’t count the tractors, animals, and Morris Dancers on the Green itself). In Tewksbury, I saw a Blue Star marker unveiling turn into a town-wide, morning-long celebration of veterans… all due to the hard work and diligent planning of that community’s garden club.
I was present at the dedication of numerous wayside gardens. One, in Groton, was nearly a thousand square feet at a prominent intersection and was so intelligently designed and beautifully planted it couldn’t possibly have been done by a garden club… except it was.
|Planting the landscaping for a|
Blue Star Marker in Tewksbury
There were countless ‘art in bloom’, ‘books in bloom’ and club flower show events, and Betty went to every one that would fit on her schedule. She helped clubs celebrate their 100th anniversaries; as well as their 90th, 75th and 50th. All are going strong, continually drawing a new generation of members interested in gardening and community service.
Seen in isolation, a town’s garden club is a beneficial part of the civic tapestry. Put together 182 of them, and you have an extraordinary group of individuals that make a lasting impact on Massachusetts.