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July 03. 2013 2:51PM

Garden clubs cultivate camaraderie while beautifying towns


The island at the corner of Main and School streets in Salem shows the work of the Salem Garden Club. Members work throughout the year maintaining some of the public spaces in town. (Jon Tripp Photo)

Garden clubs are as different as the towns they help beautify, but common to all of them are the seeds of friendship and a commitment to the community that spans generations.

Thirty years ago, Jean Walker of Goffstown found herself with grown children and some time on her hands. After years of leading Boy Scouts and playing taxi to different sporting events, Walker and her friend decided it was time to do something just for them, so they attended a meeting of the Goffstown Garden Club.

"By the second meeting, we were in charge of planting the town garden," said Walker. "We joined to do nothing but we laugh now because we do a lot."

Walker calls the 40-member group a "working garden club" and said folks ages 30 to nearly 80 participate.

"We're about community service first, but there's still time for socializing," she said.

From filling the town's roundabouts with blooms each spring, to adorning town buildings with wreaths, to making floral arrangements for residents at the local nursing home, the Goffstown Garden Club has a finger in many pies.

"We try to get a lot done," she said, "but we have fun, too."
In Hooksett, Marty Lennon said the garden club is a source of education for members and guests at its monthly meetings.

"We have people in the club who are very, very knowledgeable about plants, so we pick each other's brains," said Lennon.
The group also invites guest speakers to come and share ideas with the approximately 25 members of the club.

But beautifying the town is another goal of the club, and a bridge that spans the Merrimack River has been brought to life with 48 flower boxes, each bursting with blossoms by summertime. The members also get their hands dirty at the public library, their biggest problem, and at entrances to the town.

"We have a lot of talent in our club," said Lennon.

One of the oldest garden clubs in the state is the Salem Garden Club, which celebrated its 50th birthday recently, according to Donna Smith. There are several generations of members in the club, including Smith's mom, Mary Roy, who will turn 96 in July.
"Our youngest member is 17," said Smith.

Because most of the 22 members of the Salem Garden Club are older folks, Smith said there's a lot more socializing than gardening being done. While they used to care for more than a dozen gardens in town, these days they've narrowed that number down to two.
"It's hard to get new members," Smith said. "When the Garden Club started, a lot of people were interested but none of the women worked. Now a lot of people work and just don't have time. So our club is just kind of easy going – more social, less rigorous."

But in Bedford, membership in the club hovers around 70, according to Jeanene Procopis, and their work can be seen from the roadways to the parks to town buildings. The newest project of the club is to help beautify the new Bedford Village Common. The club donated a new pergola and is in the process of planting a large garden at the park.
While there's lots of work to be done in Bedford, Procopis said the club is a great place to meet new friends and spend time with old ones.

"When you're working with people, planting or maintaining a garden, you really get to know them and to maintain friendships as well," she said. "It's a really great group of people."
The one thing garden clubs don't have is a lot of male participants. Bedford has a few active members, said Procopis, but the other clubs seem to have only a token man here and there.
"We only have one man, but he's very active and very important to the club because he gives us a different slant on things," said Lennon.

Walker said the Goffstown club also only has one fellow who joins in the fun.
"They are few and far between," she said. "But they'd be welcome."
Keeping membership numbers up is difficult in Goffstown, but through the programs offered during their meetings, the club is able to draw in new people and if lucky, hold onto them.
"We picked up three new members during our last meeting," she said. "But we're always hoping for more."


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