Bulbs and bubbly, anyone?
By Apryl Motley
It’s time to celebrate. This year the Takoma Park Horticultural Club (THC) commemorates its 100th Anniversary and 10 decades of educating local gardeners while furthering its public gardening mission. Activities are planned throughout the year. The club hosted a hospitality suite at the Historic Takoma House and Garden Show. On May 18 at the City Council meeting, the City is presenting a proclamation to the club recognizing its centennial. In July look for club members marching in the City’s annual Fourth of July parade to represent 100 years of gardening. And during the club’s anniversary year, members are reflecting on their best experiences with the club and the reasons behind its longevity.
Diane Svenonius, current editor of the club’s monthly newsletter and a past president, first joined the club in 2010 after attending one of the public programs the club hosts throughout the year featuring notable speakers. “One of my favorites was Sam Droege, who is a vehement enthusiast of native bees and startled everyone by saying that Takoma Park should cut down some of its trees to make meadow habitats that these pollinators prefer,” Svenonius recalls.
She’s also a fan of the club’s open garden series held on Friday afternoons in June and enjoys the club’s annual plant exchanges. “I’m not a terrific gardener, and most of what’s in my garden comes from the plant exchanges,” Svenonius says.
The club’s annual plant exchanges are members-only events, but that shouldn’t deter anyone. Dues remain a very reasonable $12 per year. When the club was first started at the Takoma, DC branch of the District of Columbia Library in March 1916, dues were .10 per meeting. According to Svenonius, who serves on the THC history team, club members grew tired of making change, and dues became $1 per year with increases to $2 and eventually $8 at different points in the club’s history.
Perhaps, it’s this financial accessibility and openness to gardeners at all levels that has kept the club going. “There are so many people in different stages of gardening,” Svenonius says, “and we have a little of everything. We try for that variety.”
“People want to learn more about gardening,” she continues. “It’s that combination of learning more about plants and gardening in a social setting that draws people to the club.”
This was certainly the case for Nancy Newton, a 23-year resident of Takoma Park, when she joined THC 10 years ago. “Above all else, I really enjoy learning from other members,” Newton says. “I am an amateur, but we have members who are master gardeners or have certificates in landscaping. I have learned from everyone.”
Newton notes that the club’s listserv, which is open to both members and nonmembers, is a great learning tool. “People share photographs and ask questions about problem plants,” she explains. With the possibility of input from the 500+ people on the list, participants are likely to get a variety of answers to their queries.
Interestingly, according to Newton, who also serves on the THC history team, from the 1920s to the 1960s, the club had up to 500 members at a time, and some were couples. “The level of activity was much higher with seven garden shows a year in addition to monthly meetings and a massive cooperative buying effort for plants and seeds,” she notes. “It’s quite striking to see how big and active the club was at this time.”
Based on newsletters, reports, and other materials made available with the help of Diane Kohn and Historic Takoma Inc., the club’s first cooperative buying effort took place shortly after its founding when the Department of Agriculture refused a duplicate shipment of bulbs. A charter member of THC, who was also the Department of Agriculture official in charge of bulb growing, offered the club’s officers the opportunity to purchase the bulbs, which were then resold to members.
Thus the first bulb sale was born. According to Newton’s article in THC’s March newsletter, “Many of the narcissuses, jonquils, and other bulbs seen growing in the gardens of older (and sometimes newer) homes in Takoma, DC and Takoma Park today are likely to be the babies of bulbs from THC.” This year’s bulb sale will take place on Oct. 2 at the Takoma Street Festival.
“With our bulb sale, I see our bulbs everywhere,” says Kathy Jentz, chair of the 100th Anniversary Committee and a past vice president and president of the club, “particularly the ones we donated in parks.”
Jentz joined the club fifteen years ago as a “beginning to intermediate” gardener. “The first meeting I attended was a pruning workshop,” she recalls. “It was a demo and talk about different tools and techniques with which I was totally unfamiliar at the time.”
For her one of the joys of being a THC member is “feeling like you know everyone and that what you’re giving to it is worthwhile.” As such, Jentz was surprised to learn that the first members were all men, and until the 1970s, membership was invitation only; you had to be invited to attend a meeting by a member. Certainly, this has changed. In fact, Jentz attributes the club’s longevity to “the people and the small hometown feel.”
City Gardener Mike Welsh, a THC member since the 1980s, can attest to the contributions the club has made to its hometown. “THC has participated in plantings of City gardens and contributed funds towards plant purchases as well as THC members donating plants from their own gardens,” he says.
And the best is yet to come. Welsh is working with THC to create a new park on city property at the northwest corner of Piney Branch Road and Philadelphia Avenue to reflect the 100-year relationship of the club to the City of Takoma Park. It will be called Centennial Park and funded through donations from its members and grants from local organizations to procure plants.
Planting is expected to start in the fall.
A master gardener, Welsh describes the club as a “lifeline for beginning gardeners.” He says, “Many people come to Takoma Park as new homeowners with yards, and the club welcomes new gardeners.”
“Most people who start gardening turn initially to national books, which will only take you so far,” he continues. “The knowledge you get from a regional club is everything.”
Perhaps, the club’s tagline says it best, “a hardy perennial since 1916.” For more information about the club’s anniversary activities, membership, and making donations, visit www.takomahort.org.
This article appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.