Twin Cities garden clubs retool for a new generation

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2014 - 2:46 PM

With members aging and numbers dwindling, some groups are expanding their mission and methods to lure a new generation of gardeners.

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Christine Becerra (left) and Lyndsey Buechel (right) browse the selection of plants at the Diggers Garden Club annual plant sale outside the Robbinsdale library on Saturday morning.

Photo: MONICA HERNDON, Star Tribune

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You don’t have to have gray hair to join a garden club, but you probably have a few silver strands if you belong to one.

The average age of a garden club member is “about 75 … maybe a little older,” said Rene Lynch, president of the Federated Garden Clubs of Minnesota (FGCM).

It wasn’t always that way.

In 1955, the year the FGCM was formed, the typical garden club member was a woman in her late 20s or early 30s, according to Lynch.

It was the golden age for garden clubs, and groups sprouted like weeds around the Twin Cities. World War II was over, the GIs had come home and were buying houses in developing first-ring suburbs.

Their wives, eager to beautify their landscape and make friends in their new neighborhoods, joined local garden clubs.

“Women were at home. That’s how it got started in Minnesota,” said Lynch. “Each community had dozens of clubs.”

Today, some of those clubs are still around, but most have fewer members than they used to. Women are less likely to be home in the cul-de-sac all day long — and more likely to be rushing home from a job to whip up a quickie meal before dashing off to a baseball game.

“Young moms are so busy,” noted Liz Genovese, a retired preschool teacher in Edina who joined her neighborhood garden club about five years ago. “They’re working full-time or at least part-time. It’s not the same pace.”

People who do find time for gardening are less likely to join a club, now that garden-related websites are just a Google click away. “There’s lots of ways people get information now that they didn’t have available to them then,” Lynch said.

Many clubs have remained vital with a core of committed gardeners. But some once-vibrant clubs no longer exist.

Lynch estimates clubs have been disappearing for the past 10 years. And each lost club represents a lifetime of garden know-how that could have been shared.

“There’s this wonderful accumulated knowledge of all these people who have been gardening for 50 years,” she said. Virtual garden instruction can’t compare with “putting your actual hands in the dirt and having someone show you how to do something.”

The clubs that are thriving are those that are adapting to changing lifestyles — and garden trends. Some are committing themselves to current hot-button issues, such as protecting pollinators by planting native habitat. Others are actively recruiting new members outside their traditional demographic base.

“Garden clubs in the future aren’t going to exist like they exist today,” Lynch said. The ritual of holding regular club meetings, for example, will probably have to change. “Young people don’t want another meeting. They get enough of that at work. With technology, officers will meet online and text back and forth.”

Here’s a look at how three longtime Twin Cities garden clubs have evolved over the decades:

Turn-around tale

Diggers, a group with members in Robbinsdale and Plymouth, is one of the oldest garden clubs in the Twin Cities, dating back to the early 1940s during Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War II Victory Garden initiative.

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