Gardening Tips & Tricks

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Organizing and Maintaining a Local Garden Club

Breaking the Inertia

The very first thing you need to do is to decide to do it! It seems self-evident, but it isn’t. First of all, this can be a matter of “my cabin doesn’t leak when it doesn’t rain”. Or not getting started when the weather is bad and being too busy when the weather is good. So the first thing you need to do is to decide that if you want a local garden club, you need to do something about it–and pick a date. Now you have a goal and a time frame.

Where to Start

First, find a partner for moral and organizational support. Most of us who garden have a gardening friend or circle of friends, or we belong to some other organization. It’s good to have someone you can bounce things off. Get in touch with your RVP also or the closest club you can identify. These folks can give you lots of advice and support, and if they’re close enough they might even help you pull of your first meeting or exhibit.

Running it up the flagpole — or “I have a barn, let’s put on a show”

I personally believe there are two sure-fire ways to put your plans in front of interested people. Either put on a slide show and talk or organize an exhibit of flowers. The objective is to find a way to put your product in front of your market in the least threatening way possible. If you have a local Civic Garden Centre, Botanical garden, Co-operative Extension or nursery with meeting facilities, you might approach them about offering the venue. Other possibilities include a library, school or nursing home. You will need a place where people gather — preferably ‘green people’. I’m of the opinion that it’s good to align yourself with a green organization because you will then start off with a built-in interest group and a source of potential members. The room should hold 50-60 people comfortably, have audio-visual capabilities and be easy to get to. If you decide on an exhibit instead of a slide show, you will need room for people to see your flowers and enough ‘schmoozers’ to chat them up.

You don’t want to put yourself in the red right off the bat, so if the site you select comes with a rental fee, try to negotiate. Bargaining points can include a future flower garden, percentage of the gate or free membership when your club takes off.

The Bait

Now you need to decide what your program will be about. I believe a slide show is the best way to engage the public, since you have them all sitting down in one place at one time, but, if you decide that you’re more comfortable with a flower exhibit, you’ll need people that can ‘chat up’ the folks who attend.

If you’re doing a slide show, choose a topic that is easily understood and non-threatening; something like ‘name of flower — The Can’t Fail Perennial’. This tells exactly what your plant is and that anyone can grow it. Lots of folks believe that gardening is part science and part alchemy, so relieving that kind of anxiety on the front end is good planning. Contact AHS about renting slides and either find someone who can present them for you or do it yourself. Give yourself time to get familiar with the slides you’re using and to weave in the points you want to make about culture and so on.

Feed the media

So now you have a plan, a site and a program; the only thing left is getting people to come. Again, try to work with local green groups to develop a mailing list or get some free publicity. You’ll need to create a flyer that is inviting and makes your meeting sound like something that can’t be missed. We believe in promises; refreshments (cookies and cider are safe), door prizes and a raffle. Don’t mention a club; take a page from the sellers of real estate timeshares — get the people there first and then have your way with them.

A word of advice: DO charge a modest fee — people don’t value free things — but you’ll want to keep it affordable. You may even want to come up with a twofer price to appeal to people’s desire for a bargain ($5 per person or two for $7).

Now you need the media. Media coverage is the most effective publicity you can get and will make a big difference in the number of people who attend. Chat up the biggest paper in your town and don’t forget about the little ‘shoppers’. If you have a garden writer, that’s the best. Get a list of your target media and send them your flyer with a personal handwritten appeal to print it. If you can get them to write an article about your flowers, that is even better. As for television and radio our motto is ‘feel the media’. This means putting together something attractive with something edible to it (a basket with flower shaped cookies?).. and take it to them with your flyer. If you can hand it to them personally, you can add a personal pitch, but many places now have a policy against admitting people to the station so you may have to leave your offering with a guard.

Give yourself no more than two weeks for publicity. And remember that most people need to hear about something over and over for them to make a decision to attend so use many approaches.

Ground Zero

So now it’s the day of the event. You should have the following available: two cashiers with plenty of change and cash boxes, flower books and plants to raffle off or give away — people love to walk away with something and it does not have to be anything fancy — handouts on culture, on AHS and on forming a local club… and schmoozers. Schmoozers are people who are comfortable chatting with strangers and finding their interest level. Don’t just let people file in and sit down; they need to feel welcome.

Make sure you get everyone’s name and address. One way to do this is to make up special drawing tickets that ask for this information; another is to ask them to sign in at the door.

Immediate following the program, you swing into action. In a friendly and non-threatening way, explain how much you love your flower and how you hope to get a local club together so that you can bring in speakers, learn more about the plants and varieties, have the advantage of a club in getting newer plants and so on. Make sure you get the idea across that having a local club benefits them. And remember that most people want to know two things: how to grow the flower and how to get them. Speak to these two points and you’ll have them flopping on the pier. If you’re really smooth you’ll have handed each attendee a packet when they came in that includes the proposal to start a club, modest dues and an application. People will join in the rosy afterglow of the meeting if it’s affordable and easy.

The Rest of the Story

Keeping a club viable, interesting and fun is an ongoing project. We find that there are several aspects to club health:

  • Outreach — This means garden shows, horticultural open houses, speaking to other clubs and planting public gardens. Anytime you can get your name in front of the public, you should accept. Prepare generic flyers with your flower cultural information, club information and a short calendar that can be passed out on these occasions and have a display that you throw up in a heartbeat.
  • Partnering — Most of us are gardeners, not just a specific grower and you can help maintain the interest of the club by inviting speakers from other plant groups to address your group. Also, by forming alliances with other plant organizations you increase your pool of workers and potential market.
  • Programs — Again, remember that people want to know how to grow you flowers and how to get them. Make sure that your meeting programs speak to those needs. When you can afford to bring a hybridizer, do it (you’ll find most of them are very willing to help out a new club), and find ways to get good, named plants into the hands of your club members.
  • Communication — Do have a regular means of communication. A newsletter is best, if you have the talent and funds available in your club. If you don’t, then postcards and calling trees are important for gathering people.
  • Mix It Up — Try different approaches for your members in order to cover the range of interest. Some people like landscaping, some people like heavy science and some people like affordable pretties. All interests are valid and you’ll be rewarded if you offer an array of topics at different interest levels throughout the year.
  • Tricks and Gimmicks — Here is a program that has worked very well. Offer your own play money as payment for any item someone participates in a club activity. Hand out so-called “BADS Bux” for attending a meeting, for chairing a committee, for taking a shift at an outreach or for bringing cookies. It has been a great program for some clubs and one that other clubs might try in order to get more members involved.

Good Luck!

Being involved in a local club adds a rich dimension to your hobby. Consorting with other flower people helps to ‘raise the bar’ of education in your area and improve the quality of plant material available locally. You don’t have to be a flower genius to form a club; you just need the desire and the energy to make something happen and then the vision to keep it alive for the future. You can do it, I know you can.

By Kathy Guest, reprinted from The Daylily Journal article: A Garden Club is Not a Weapon, Summer, 2000

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