Plan, plant, prune, repeat

The Springfield Civic Garden Club just keeps growing

click to enlarge Springfield Civic Garden Club volunteer Alice Nelle at the 2016 Garden Palooza. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER JUSTIN
Springfield Civic Garden Club volunteer Alice Nelle at the 2016 Garden Palooza.
On March 7, 1929, visionary Harriet Knudson, known as Mrs. T. J. Knudson, hosted a meeting of Springfield residents at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel to establish a club dedicated to creating beauty and conserving the city’s wildlife and natural resources. By the end of the month, a new garden club with the motto “A More Beautiful Springfield” had drafted a constitution and elected directors.

Participation grew rapidly as members busied themselves with flower shows, educational events and trips. Then, when the city completed Lake Springfield just six years later in 1935, Knudson asked for 63 lakefront acres to be donated and cultivated as a landscaped garden of woodland and prairie plants designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen, dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln, and supported by the nearly 1,000 garden club members as their primary project. By 1938, Lincoln Memorial Garden was ready to receive visitors and Mrs. Knudson’s garden club had a mission.

Since then, the Springfield Civic Garden Club has developed an ambitious and diverse list of projects and activities that benefit Springfield 12 months a year.

Here to serve and socialize

These days, supporting the work and special events of Lincoln Memorial Garden is just the beginning for the busy garden club. “The Springfield Civic Garden Club is the largest garden club in Illinois, and one of the largest in the nation,” says Ada Lynn Shrewsbury, who has been an active member since 1973. “That affords us the opportunity to do things smaller clubs can’t do, such as hosting paid speakers at our monthly meetings and being generous toward the community with scholarships, service and grants.”

At the February meeting, more than 150 members and guests enjoyed meeting and greeting over an array of delicious treats, perusing the specialty products sale table, conducting business, and listening to gardening tips and an educational presentation.

Monthly business always includes updates and calls for volunteers for such projects as “Christmas Tree in a Bag,” the Memorial Medical Center Foundation Festival of Trees, National Garden Week activities, the annual Arbor Day celebration, flower arrangements for local sites, help at the living history heirloom garden and more.

Outgoing President Carol Green likes the Christmas Tree in a Bag project, among other club activities. “Several years ago,” says Green, “Ada Lynn Shrewsbury suggested decorating small, artificial tabletop trees and putting each into a bag” (to keep the decorations from falling off.) The group donates the decorated trees to people who wouldn’t have a tree otherwise, adds Green. “We decorate and deliver approximately 257 trees, swags, wreaths and centerpieces each year to 10 different charities such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, nursing homes, the Salvation Army and others.”

“That project is very heartwarming,” says Shrewsbury. “We start working in early summer. It’s such a feel-good thing for the organization.”

Green is also proud of the members’ dedication to providing floral arrangements for the Dana-Thomas House and Lincoln Home National Historic Site Visitor Center each week from April through December. But her biggest effort goes to the annual plant sale each spring. “I love working at the plant sale. It’s our main fundraising project each May at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. We have plants and a garden market of supplies, tools and equipment that members have donated.” The club is in full swing preparing for this year’s May 6 Garden Palooza plant sale.

Garden Club participation is not all work, though. Members truly enjoy each other’s company. “I have met some terrific people, made some good friends, and learned things at the meetings I wouldn’t have learned or even thought to look up,” says Green. “Even people without any experience, or even any interest, in outdoor gardening can enjoy the programs and friendships and classes. I’m always learning something,” says Green.

The Garden Club also welcomes and encourages newcomers. Longtime member Mary Selinski says, “People have the same problems you do, and the same joys you do.” She brings extra seed and plant catalogs to the monthly meetings so new people “who haven’t gotten on the lists yet,” can see and subscribe. During her monthly horticulture minute at the February meeting, Selinski offered hope for the earliest crocus plants that were already up and in bloom. “They’re tough. They’ll make it through any blizzards we still have yet to come.”

It’s a family project for some of the members, including Green, whose landscaper son Brad has been a member for nearly 10 years, has helped Carol chair the plant sale, and loves to help members dig and divide their plants. “It helps the members maintain healthy gardens, and helps the Garden Club fundraiser,” says Brad Green. “The sale is something to see! People start lining up for the 8 a.m. opening at 6:30 a.m. We sell around 5,000 plants. It’s phenomenal.”

Sharing the wealth

The Springfield Civic Garden Club takes seriously its responsibility to grow new gardens and gardeners. In addition to Christmas Tree in a Bag, the club awards community projects grants to support organizations with their gardens or green lifestyle awareness. One such grant provided a free trip to Lincoln Memorial Garden for the local Boys and Girls Clubs. Another helped The Hope School establish a garden for residents to tend. Another supported the Enos Park neighborhood’s sculpture garden.

Through the club’s annual Arbor Day program, area students attend a tree-planting ceremony with local dignitaries, says Green. “The kids are so excited. Before they come out – and for the past few years, we’ve been providing trees for Centennial Park – their teachers have them write a story or poem about trees and then the kids present their writing at the ceremony.”

Sally Noble coordinates Arbor Day activities. “It’s my favorite thing. I’ve probably been doing this for 15 years. It’s so much fun because it involves the kids.”

Some of the club’s bounty takes a more immediate form. Produce from the Harriet Dean Heirloom Garden in the Lincoln Home National Historic Site neighborhood is donated to the Grace Lutheran Church food pantry in downtown Springfield. It’s part of the “Plant a Row for the Hungry” project, and another way Garden Club members join with others in service.

Beauty in a vase, teapot or rock

Outdoor gardening isn’t the only area of expertise for club members. For some whose passion is floral design, beautiful flower beds are a means to another beautiful, artistic end. Flower-arranging teacher, nationally accredited Master Flower Show Judge and committed recycler of just about everything, Ada Lynn Shrewsbury leads the way.

“This is really adult recreation,” Shrewsbury begins. “It’s legal, moral, ethical and non-fattening. It’s therapeutic. Soul satisfying. You are completely in control.

“When your design is correct, you can look at it and feel comfortable, at ease with the design. If not, look to these six design principles.” (You can remember them, she adds, with this sentence: Be Really Careful Driving Past Schools.)
• Balance – Not top-heavy or leaning over

• Rhythm – A visual pathway through a design that your eye follows. It can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal, and it is all about visual movement. “I cannot help but think of music and dance when I think of rhythm, even when I am looking at plant material.”

• Contrast – Differences in sizes, shapes and colors. Contrast adds interest, but too much can create confusion

• Dominance – Have someplace for the eye to come to rest. It’s the greater impact of one thing over another.

• Proportion – Area relationships and amounts of the components.

• Scale – Proper sizing of the materials with respect to each other. This also pertains to the frame of reference. Small area? Smaller scale. For a grand scale, such as the large rooms of the Dana-Thomas House, design large.

Finally, says Shrewsbury, enjoy accessorizing your designs with found objects. “Accessories are anything that is not plant material – rocks, shells, sculptures, feathers, balloons, figurines, birds, butterflies. I call them ‘The Smile Factor.’ They can be especially charming if they tell a story or signify a special event. Look at every object you own for possible use as a container or an accessory, and then visit thrift shops and dollar stores for more ideas. You don’t have to break the bank account!” Find things you like and use them in new, creative ways.

Begin your search for containers and plants of all kinds at this year’s Garden Palooza, May 6, at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Until then, take another look at your garden, patio or potted h
ouseplants. There’s always more than meets the eye – or could be, with a little inspiration from the Springfield Civic Garden Club.

This spring DiAnne Crown will be planting elevated vegetable beds for herself, and ground-level gardens for the neighborhood rabbits. Live and let live!

What’s coming up

Garden Palooza: Springfield Civic Garden Club Plant Sale
Saturday, May 6, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Barn #26, Illinois State Fairgrounds, Sangamon Avenue at Peoria Road. Premium perennials, annuals, hanging baskets, decorative items, tools and more.

Also on the calendar

Monthly meetings – Free and open to the public, 9-11:30 a.m. usually on the first Monday, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 533 S. Walnut Street, Springfield.

April 16, 17 - Lincoln Memorial Woodland Wildflower Sale, Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 1-4 p.m.

April 22 - Earth Day, 1-5 p.m., Old State Capitol, downtown Springfield

April 28 - Arbor Day, 10 a.m., Centennial Park

May 6 - Garden Palooza, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Barn 26, Illinois State Fairgrounds

May 13, 14 - Lincoln Memorial Garden Prairie Wildflower Sale, Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 1-4 p.m.

June 4-10 - National Garden Week, club members’ floral arrangements displayed at local sites

June 5 - Garden Walk, 9 a.m. to noon, self-guided tour of local gardens. Maps will be available at Westminster Presbyterian Church day of event. Note: The SCGC Garden Walk and the Flower Show are each held every other year. Next year is the Flower Show.

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