Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Starting a Garden Club

Gardeners love to putter around...digging, planting, picking, sniffing, admiring...and they know that there's only one other thing that's on the same level funwise as actual gardening: TALKING about gardening! Gardeners also know that their audience for such talk is limited...once you start mentioning scientific names and growth habits the eyes of non-gardeners tend to glaze over and sometimes they drool a bit out of sheer boredom. Enter...the Garden Club! A place for your fellow flora aficionados to gather and talk for hours about the thing they love most...gardening. If there's one in your area already, you're all set. If there isn't, or if the existing group is full (many have size limits due to space constraints), you may want to consider starting your own.

Are you the right person to manage a club?
Be sure that this is something you're going to have enough time for...it will require more than one meeting a month if you're in charge, for sure. It's an 'job' best for folks who are retired or have no small children. You'll need to coordinate a huge range of activities, so it also helps if you're well organized by nature. You should also be outgoing, as you're going to be encountering a lot of people that you'll need to welcome and nurture, like your gardens. If you lack time, are disorganized or aren't a people person but still want to start a garden club, consider asking a friend who would be more suitable as a leader to partner with you.

Is there enough interest in your area?
Ask around before getting too deep...especially if there is an existing club in your area. To have optimum success, you'll need at least 15 members. Why so many? Not everyone will make it to every meeting, and though it's nice talking one on one, you'll quickly tire of all the preparation if turnout is poor. How do you find out if folks are interested? Post flyers at local establishments (don't forget churches!) asking those who'd like to joining to contact you for information...an email address is nice so someone can just drop you a line if they don't like talking on the phone. And, of course, tell all your gardening friends to tell THEIR gardening friends!

Planning the first meeting.
The best advice is keep it SIMPLE...the first club meeting should be a basic, getting to know you type affair with some snacks and a general plan. Have a sheet made up in advance with questions for your members asking what direction they would like the club meetings to take...an hour of lectures? More talk time? Topic specific? Most clubs meet monthly, but ask your members if they want to do more. For the next meeting, generate a firm plan based on 'majority rules'. If you haven't picked a name, ask for suggestions regarding that as well.

Electing/Appointing Officers
For your club to be truly organized, and if you plan on making it an official 'non-profit' organization at some point, you'll need officers and by-laws. You can either appoint or nominate officers...you'll need a president, a vice president, a treasurer and a secretary. It's usually easy to find members with experience, and it's best to stick with someone you know well or with references. Better safe than sorry, especially for the treasurer position. For larger clubs, you may also want to organize committees within the clubs for event planning: fundraising, party planning, field trips, etc. The by laws aren't mandatory, but are a good idea. They should include membership fee amounts, number of meetings that must be attended to be in good standing, reasons for dismissal...that sort of thing. A lawyer in your area may be willing to help you pro bono, especially if they're a gardener.

Meeting Structure
Most meetings are called to order, the officers report on monthly happenings, and then everyone snacks and chats amongst themselves (that's the fun part!). Some clubs bring in a guest each month to speak for a few minutes on a specific topic, too. Again, look to your members to see what they seem to enjoy most and go with it. Plant exchanges from member gardens are ALWAYS a huge hit in the spring, so plan ahead and know that on those meeting days no one will be listening to a word you're saying because they have plants on the brain.

Unfortunately, things like lectures and food cost money...and while at first your own money may be used to fund everything, your club may outgrow your budget. You can charge members a small amount per year or per meeting to pay for things, but again...that will only go so far. Finding ways to make money is one of the most difficult parts of being in charge of a club...thankfully, many local businesses will be happy to help you out if you promote their establishment. Non-local businesses help as well...you can often buy goods at a wholesale price and then sell them to your members or at a show at the retail price, making a tidy profit. Also consider bus trips to cities near you that would constitute a 'day trip'...visit botanical gardens, Christmas shows, house tours and the like. Take an ad in your local paper advertising the trip (again, if you're not for profit some papers will let you place your ad for free) and try your best to fill every spot. If making money becomes a problem for your club, check with the National Garden Club Association or other organizations for more helpful tips. Some actually have programs you can enroll in to help profit share, and others have classes you can take to enhance your performance.

Most of all, have FUN with your club...the whole reason behind it is to allow gardeners to establish life long connections in your community, and that's priceless!

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