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Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - May 7, 2010

Garden tips for May

How to start a garden club — and keep it going

by Jack McKinnon

Starting and participating in a garden club has many benefits to us as gardeners, the community and the planet. This month's garden tips will be about garden clubs and how to start them, keep them going and liven them up when they get lackadaisical.

1. To start a garden club is easy. All you need is a phone, a pad and a pencil. To keep one going is another story altogether. There are several organizations that support new garden clubs, have guidelines and even advice on gaining nonprofit status, as well as insurance policies that are advantageous to participate in. Here are a few of their websites: California Garden Clubs Inc. (, National Garden Clubs (, Garden Clubs of America (

2. Your garden club can have a theme. There are garden clubs for specific plant lovers like orchid growers, gardenia lovers, edible gardens and native plant societies. A garden club can be a private group of friends or part of the world of gardeners. Some garden clubs travel together while others do field trips. Guest speakers are often invited to bring interesting themes and subjects to the club.

3. The San Mateo Arboretum Society puts on the Hillsborough Garden Tour each year displaying some amazing estates. There are garden clubs that provide fundraising functions for charity organizations. Some of these activities are really fun. One example is the Venice Garden Tour where if you have the stamina, you can visit 30 gardens in one day. The Gamble Garden tour did that in Palo Alto last month with six gardens representing the history of this tour over the last 25 years.

4. Some clubs are more exclusive than others. Ruth Berliner started the Florets Garden Club in Palo Alto in 1965. I have spoken there twice in the last 10 years and found it wonderful. In order to be a member though, you have to be sponsored by another member. This club has only nine members but is rich in experience and skill.

5. More people are becoming interested in growing their own food. Not only is it fresh (and fresh means better tasting), but it allows for varieties that are not available in even the farmers markets. A garden club that focuses on organic practices, resources and cultivars will tend to be more discriminating about what they are growing. They share readily what they learn and often by getting a newsletter out can share with the whole community. I learned more about potatoes in the last year than I ever thought I would know including a good source for seed potatoes,

6. Garden clubs help understand the unique microclimates of the area they are growing in. I just joined the newly started Pescadero Garden Club and the variations of growing environments of our 10 members range from coastal fog to mountain freeze — and that is just the cold range. We are getting and giving advice as well as gathering a lot of homework to do that will help everybody grow better gardens.

7. There are several schools that I have visited as a garden coach that are growing their own vegetables. Children love learning about nature and a local garden club can provide a great resource for starting and maintaining a school garden.

8. I don't want to leave out the social values of being in a garden club. Of the 15 or so clubs that I have spoken to, most members are women. This is really good news. Women love to socialize and are really good at it. For men, where else are you going to be around so many women? Who knows, you may learn a thing or two about socializing. Of course there is no reason not to start a men's garden club either. You can trade tubers, watch the game and go out and have a lawn-tractor race.

9. It is still early in the summer and planting is going on all over the valley. There is no better reason to gather at someone's home than to do a mass planting, especially for seniors who are slowing down a bit. A potluck, sharing and trading plants and planting a flower bed make for a wonderful Saturday afternoon. And the host gets a great show for the rest of the summer.

10. I encourage you, if you are at all interested in gardening to try starting or joining a garden club. Give it a year, and if it does not work for you then move on. Who knows? It may just become a life-long passion.

Good Gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-879-3261 or 650-455-0687 (cell), by e-mail at Visit his website at


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