Getting the Dirt on Garden Clubs
Times have changed, but these civic groups’ commitment to communities hasn’t.
Writer: L. Beth Bonifant | Spring-Summer 2022
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
I don’t think the famed anthropologist, writer and activist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) was referring to garden clubs when she said this, but she could have been. Go to any garden club website and you will see similar goals and objectives far loftier than what you may have typically associated with these groups.
While floral design, horticulture and socializing still play a large role, scholarships, conservation and preservation are the civic backbone of these organizations.
The Ladies Garden Club of Athens, Georgia, founded the first garden club in America in 1891. In 1929, 13 states, of which Maryland was one, became charter members at an organizational meeting in Washington, D.C., thereby forming a federation as part of the garden club movement.
“Some may wonder why I chose wildflowers when there are hunger and unemployment and the big bomb in the world. Well, I, for one, think we will survive, and I hope that along the way we can keep alive our experience with the flowering earth. For the bounty of nature is also one of the deep needs of man.” — Lady Bird Johnson
Today, National Garden Club Inc. comprises 50 state garden clubs within the U.S. and hundreds of international affiliated organizations around the globe. That single original Federated Garden Club of Maryland is now comprised of 81 garden clubs within the state, divided into five districts. The Southern Maryland District II encompasses Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties.
Between 1929 and 1938, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties each established a garden club and began their association with what later became the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, or FGCMD.
With this new status followed invitations for participation in the distinguished Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage tours. The pilgrimage debuted in 1930 and has been raising funds for preservation and restoration of architecturally significant properties in the state of Maryland ever since.
Each spring St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert are in a repeated rotation to host this highly anticipated event. Now in their eighth decade of collaboration, St. Mary’s County will once again open the doors of some of its finest homes for the annual pilgrimage May 21 (See more information in a related article on Page 10).
Activities never cease for these dynamic doers, and in September both St. Mary’s and Charles produce a Standard Flower Show at their respective county fairs. These impressive exhibitions are in accordance with long-standing accredited state and national standards and are an excellent opportunity for communities to see the latest in design and horticulture trends.
Though clubs engage and meet annually on a state level, each club operates as an individual local organization with elected officers and membership. Members of St. Mary’s County Garden Club host lunch meetings at local venues. After business is conducted and lunches consumed, attendees are delivered a different program with a special guest speaker each month.
Last year, itineraries included a lecture on 18th- and 19th-century Maryland landscapes, a slide show revealing colonial artifacts and clues discovered at a local archaeology site and a memorable monarch butterfly experience where members tagged live butterflies before setting them free.
In addition to the home tour, St. Mary’s County Garden Club supports three annual $1,000 scholarships for county students.
Last year, they connected with Society Hill Garden Club of Breton Bay to renovate the St. Mary’s County Health Department courtyard garden at the main office in Leonardtown. The purpose of the project was to demonstrate appreciation for the local COVID-19 pandemic response; a magnolia tree was planted in memory of St. Mary’s County residents whose lives were lost to the virus.
Other continuing projects are Garden Therapy, Young Gardeners Program and the Christmas Greens Workshop where club members create small tray favors, centerpieces and wreaths for MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, Meals-On-Wheels, Cedar Lane and Tudor Hall in Leonardtown.
You just never know where Charles County Garden Club will pop up to hold meetings.
This group has gathered at the Port Tobacco Courthouse, Maryland Veterans Museum, Charles County Fairgrounds, Christ Church, La Plata firehouse and members’ homes.
Recent programs have included “The Ancient Art of Ikebana,” “Tablescapes-Design and Dining,” “Fall Fun with Pumpkins and Flowers,” “Holiday Happiness” and their annual Christmas Tea.
During the holidays, the club gathers to make small live arrangements for veterans at Charlotte Hall Veterans Home. Look for the popular plant sale at Port Tobacco Market Days again this year.
Calvert Garden Club puts a different spin on its assemblages.
Meetings are held in a church parish hall each month with members serving as hostesses. Rather than an annual standard flower show, members share designated designs and horticulture exhibits at monthly workshops for discussions with the group. Other design opportunities for community outreach are participation in Art Blooms at Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center and Books in Bloom at Calvert libraries. The club helps maintain garden beds at Boyd King Park and Phillip House Gardens as well as the public flower garden they established at Linden, home of the Calvert Historical Society. These locations along with the Courthouse Square are treated to greening activities for the Christmas holidays. Members assemble wreaths, swags roping and Della Robbia for the seasonal enjoyment of county residents and visitors.
Each year, Calvert Garden Club accepts applications from nonprofits in the county that support environmentally beneficial projects and promote interest and education in gardening. Since the program’s inception in 2014 the club has provided more than $10,000 in grants and donations funded primarily through annual plant sales.
Southern Maryland garden clubs kept going and growing strong despite challenges of staying connected and productive during the pandemic. They adapted to Zoom meetings or donned masks just like everyone else, but fortunately for us, they didn’t disappear.
Forget the stereotypes of yesteryear, you don’t need gray hair to become a garden club member. Times have changed and so have these clubs, but one thing remains the same: garden clubs make communities stronger.
To learn more about these organizations visit their websites: stmaryscountygardenclub.com, ccmdgardenclub.org and