"Wonderful friends" and "lasting relationships" are the first things many active members of the Garden Club of Los Altos mention when asked what keeps them coming back. Celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, the club is thriving with nearly 200 members.
Members meet the fourth Tuesday afternoon of every month except July, November and December.
"Our meetings are always informational and a great way to meet fellow gardeners," said Susan Moss, who joined after retiring in 1995 because she had always loved gardening.
Moss added that the club has "such wonderful programs," with speakers who publish books on pruning, landscaping and arranging floral designs, as well as local horticulturists who know the best plantings for the area.
"I wanted to be with others who have a passion for creating beauty in their gardens and filling their homes with plants and floral arrangements," said Betty Ward, another member who joined after retiring in 2006. The club has "afforded opportunities to develop some wonderful friendships, learn horticultural tips and benefit from many outstanding, inspirational speakers."
Semiannual plant and bake sales and a plant exchange are open to the community.
"Plants started by members are my favorite memories when I see them flourishing in my garden," said Moss, who has coordinated the plant sale for years and loves to propagate plants and share them with members.
Annual members-only events include a garden tour and a garden treasures sale. Members enjoy a spring salad luncheon, a fall tea party in recognition of new members and several field trips.
"I love our field trips to local gardens and interesting sights near and far," Moss said.
Changes in gardening
Some members had enjoyed gardening for some time but found out about the club only when they accompanied someone else to a meeting. As longtime members, they also noted how gardening has changed over the years.
Jean Gillette, the current president, said she "loved flowers and loved digging in the dirt." Attending a men’s night meeting in 1968 with her husband and a friend, she was offered a job on the board at that first meeting. She has held every other job since then and considers the club "one of the great loves" of her life. Like anything else, she said, "you get out of it what you put into it," and it’s rewarding "to give to the community and to each other." Fifty years ago, Gillette got horse manure at a horse stable and mushroom compost at a mushroom farm.
"They didn’t have all the hybrids and fertilizers they do now," she said.
Marguerite Appling first went to a Garden Club meeting 48 years ago and said she found it "interesting and up my alley." She enjoys the atmosphere and being with friends. She made coffee and tea for members for 30 years and arranged flowers for the veterans’ hospital. Growing up, Appling learned a lot by gardening with her father in his large vegetable garden. In recent years, gardening has changed drastically because gophers and squirrels take everything that’s not protected. She said she has "lots of pots on the deck with bulbs" and grows her vegetables in a structure like an aviary.
Judy Hogan attended her first meeting in 1990 only so she could drive her mother-in-law, Loretta, an active member who had encouraged her to join for years. Hogan loved it right away and has been a committee member or board member ever since.
"Our club members are the nicest people in the world," Hogan said.
Over the years, she said, she has "learned that you won’t be too stressed if you are in the garden." Gardening is much more organic than in the old days, she noted, adding that perennials are also more popular than they used to be.
Pat Ley gardened for 40 years in Northern Europe and had to learn what to do and when to do it all over again when she moved to Los Altos, so she joined the Garden Club approximately 25 years ago. As a painter, potter and gardener, her interests melded well. The Garden Club, according to Ley, is "very worthwhile, and does a lot for the town." She has noticed a greater interest in native plants than even 10 years ago. Another change over the years has been the closing of small nurseries, she said, "the only places that had land that could be built on."
Ward, chairwoman of 90th anniversary exhibits and events, learned from the archives that "even in the early years, the club’s beautification projects in Los Altos included planting drought-tolerant perennials."
As Appling noted, "it’s a good, good group to be associated with. Some people live in apartments and come to enjoy the atmosphere. It’s a pleasure and you learn to garden."