Fifty years ago, a group of women with an interest in gardening and an appreciation of nature formed the Countryside Garden Club. Inspired by the vision of its leaders, Muffie Brune and Mary Hanna, the group has been meeting monthly ever since and recently celebrated 50 years of gardening and friendships with a luncheon at the Smith Center at Brandon Woods Retirement Community.
Everyone at the luncheon wore a name tag that included their date of entry into the Garden Club. Sallie Bohlen, club president, introduced life members, Marge Smith, Mary Allen and Laura Owens.
Smith, a member since 1955, recalled her early adventures into gardening.
"My interest in gardening came from my backdoor neighbor of 40 years. She got me into gardening," she recalled. "Then, I had lots of flowers."
Allen, a member since 1958, spoke briefly to the group, recounting the generosity of Countryside Garden Club members by sharing flowers and supporting each other.
Club member Mary Lou Humphrey remembered being a novice gardener.
"I thought a hosta was hasta la vista," she mused.
Other members reminisced about plants that now grow in their gardens, such as Burr Oaks and primroses that had been shared by early members of Countryside Garden Club. They called themselves legacy gardeners.
Lunch conversation was fascinating. While delicately munching on a delicious quiche, club members nonchalantly discussed coyote urine as a deer repellent, black spot on roses, powdery mildew and the many uses of 14-inch aggregate blocks.
Tales of gardening escapades were abundant. Mary Kate Ambler recalled a story by Cora Downs, a deceased member of the Countryside Garden Club. The recollection was about city fire engines commandeered to water the newly planted ornamental trees at Kansas University.
Mary Loveland remembered when she discovered 90 year-old Mary Hanna atop a ladder cleaning leaves from her gutters.
And, Marge Smith talked of the time, decades ago, when her trash collector inadvertently hauled off a bag of her favorite fertilizer. Determined to retrieve the sack of fertilizer, she tracked down the dump site and crawled around the trash pile until the coveted bag was found. "I never told George about this," she quipped of her husband.
A few tips were exchanged as well. Relative new member, Mary Lynn Stuart, explained to the women at her lunch table how to press flowers and leaves into wet concrete.
"We pride ourselves in being a hands-on group," Caprice Thompson said. "We don't do floral arrangements." Carol Zhiri echoed her sentiments by stating, "We're not elite. We have dirt under our fingernails."
Indeed, Countryside Garden Club is about gardening -- in personal gardens as well as in many community gardens. For example, Laura Owens and Mary Allen spearheaded the restoration of the fountain at South Park. The club has contributed labor to the gardens at Stepping Stones, Audio Reader and the Lawrence Arts Center. They volunteer time with the Master Gardener Garden Tours, have helped staff the Daffodil Show, are part of Friends of the Park and donate to good causes.
Members' talents extend beyond the garden. Longtime member Joyce Schild was recognized for the work she has done on program covers. When she joined Countryside Garden Club in 1971, the monthly brochures were typewritten. "I can do better than that," Schild thought. For 28 years, she has produced colorful silkscreen drawings for the program covers.
As talented as members of this group are, they invite various gardening experts to speak at their monthly meeting. Even the minutes from past meetings are a delight to read.
Here are a few excerpts:
- March 11, 1955: "Louise Miller read an entertaining paper written by Estella Cameron's husband on the 'Woes and Joys of the Husband of the Amateur Gardener.'"
- Sept. 14, 1962: "Local temperature was 103 degrees and water rationing was in force, and the electric outages were frequent. Helen Beal reported that excessive water was being used for highway construction, and trees in town were dying for lack of it. She has written a letter of protest."
- Nov. 12, 1992: "There is nothing quite like our final meeting of the year. We love the chance to visit and enjoy the warmth of good friendship ... and each of us in her own way ... must surely count these among her blessings."