The joy of gardening – Community projects and benevolence

by Jan Spann

The adage that good things come in small packages rings true for the 22 members of the Petit Jean Gardening Club. While small in number, the club’s handiwork can be seen in service projects, scholarships and financial support of community needs like Angel Tree, the Care Center and a local shelter for battered women.

Started in 1933, the club meets monthly, except in the summer, and offers monthly programs and regular field trips. Members who can’t attend meetings serve as associates, paying dues and helping when possible. Honorary members are those with many years of service to the club but no longer able to participate.

The club’s membership composition has changed through the decades. “We have a better variety and quality of programs. Our average age is younger and our bank balance is bigger,” said Janna Virden, a past club president.

The club isn’t just a Conway County organization.

“We have no boundaries. If someone likes gardening and is willing to work on projects, we don’t care where he or she lives.”

Club member Dee Curry noted that the club’s diversity includes men and women of all ages, career paths and ethnicity. “We bring fun to everything we do, and we enjoy spending time together. Pajama parties and a tea party where we wore hats are just a couple of the zany things we’ve done.”

But it’s serious business when it comes to how the club shares its variety of talents in the community. In the past, the club gave scholarships to the Americorps Program, which has now disbanded. However, the club still wanted to help fund education opportunities.

Anita Walker, secretary and club member for 20 years, spoke passionately about the club’s scholarship gifts.

“Last year, we helped fund the agriculture business program at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, but this year we’re working with counselors in the four Conway County high schools,” Walker said.

“We’ve asked them to identify students interested in a career in an agri-related field.”

The club is hoping this will become an ongoing scholarship opportunity for local students.

Each fall, club members work the floral booth at the Conway County Fair to provide residents both young and old a place to display their plant specimens, potted plants and floral arranging skills. Club members are also encouraged to bring in their own plants to round out the displays.

“We’ve had several ‘Best of Show’ winners,” boasted vice president Anna Miller.

Another way the club recognizes the efforts of residents is by sponsoring a “Yard of the Month” program during the growing season. Yards are nominated, and that month’s winner has a sign placed in their yard along with an article and picture in the local paper. One winner was an apartment dweller who had decorated her small space with lots of beautiful pots and created a green space on a balcony.

The club also donates to the senior citizen center and the Care Center for families in need. There is also a disaster fund used when they learn of a local need. The members invest sweat equity in service projects, which include the Conway County Library, the courthouse, the senior citizens center, local schools, a walking trail, the community swimming pool and the Broadway Pocket Park in Morrilton. The park is a unique example of downtown revitalization. When a downtown building was removed, the club helped create plantings around art such as the Art D’oor exhibit.

That’s a sizeable time investment for 20-plus people, but these folks also take regular field trips. Past trips include the Camden Daffodil Festival, Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival and Garvan Woodland Gardens, plus garden and home tours. The late winter Arkansas Flower and Garden show is also a regular event they attend.

Through the Arkansas Federation of Garden Clubs, club members get kids involved in contests like Woodsey Owl and Smokey Bear, which have an education component along with the fun. Last year’s winner was a local second-grader.

The best part – these projects and programs are funded through an annual plant sale, which brings in about $4,000. In February, the club accepts orders for flats of flowers as well as for filled containers.

Dee Curry coordinated the first plant sale 10 years ago. “I told the membership that it had to be 100 percent involvement – or we couldn’t do it – and that’s what it’s been. We spend a lot of time for several weeks up to the two-day sale, and then the rest of the year we get to spend the profits on community outreach.”

This year’s sale will be Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14. The location has not yet been confirmed.

For more information about the sale or to learn how to become a member of the Petit Jean Gardening Club, contact Brenda Thomas at 501.977.0747.

Pass-along plants are those that gardeners share with others to not only bring beauty to another space, but to also remind the recipient of how they are connected to nature and to one another. And for this small group of gardeners, their time, their enthusiasm and the spirit of kindness and generosity are passed along through the many ways they give back to others.