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Down in the dirt

Although lots of men are excellent gardeners, all of the garden clubs in the valley have one thing in common — they’re overwhelmingly female.

Why is this?

“I don’t know,” says Donna Bowen, president of the Jacksonville Garden Club. “It’s just the way it is. Anyone can join, though. Many join for the fellowship, to promote the beauty of the community, to support good use of natural resources, to bring in better landscape design, also for fundraisers for scholarships.

“Then there’s the love of gardening. Everyone has that — and we learn a lot about it from each other.”

Michael Dawkins, the first male president of the Ashland Garden Club, notes that his grandfather started the organization in about 1950.

“It’s kind of a puzzle,” he says, “because some of the best gardeners are male. I went to a statewide conference of the garden clubs, and here were 150 people and only three of us were men.

“It would be cool if more men would show up.”

Garden club members tend their own plots, of course, but they also get their hands in the dirt with community projects. The 60-member Ashland Garden Club takes care of the flower beds in front of popular North Mountain Park. They’re planning a resurrection of the once-lavish rose garden in Lithia Park. It has been decimated by deer and will need a good fence, he notes.

Jacksonville Garden Club members spruce up the garden at the Jacksonville post office, the chapel at the Veterans Administration’s Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White city, Veterans Memorial Park and Blue Star Memorial Highway markers.

They take field trips to area nurseries and raise money by selling December green arrangements and wreaths and Mother’s Day fresh floral arrangements and potted plants.

Clubs have speakers at their regular meetings, learning what’s new at area greenhouses and from the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy. They have a social hour before meetings.

The clubs belong to an eight-club network in Jackson and Josephine counties, and they stay in touch with those in adjacent counties.

“Some people who don’t garden still participate because they want to support our projects,” says Bowen. “It’s a great way to get involved in your community, meet people and learn an awful lot.”

With 63 members, the Medford Garden Club takes care of some city gardens, including the Eastwood Cemetery near Bear Creek Park and a park on East Main Street. They take turns with the other garden clubs in bringing flowers to the SORCC.

The Jacksonville Garden Club has been one of the gems of civic involvement in Jacksonville for over 75 years. The club is always seeking new members to get involved in a variety of activities during its season, which runs from September to June. Meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at the Naversen Room in the Jacksonville library and typically take about two hours.

Last year’s meeting topics included growing berries, plant propagation, nurturing air plants, art in the garden, and a tour of a local garden and greenhouse with many rare plants.

The club raises money for local scholarships through its Holiday Greens Sale in December and a spring sale in May.

“Joining a garden club is generally simple and inexpensive but the benefits go far beyond the pleasure of growing things,” says Sue Miler, who does publicity for the Jacksonville club. “Membership opens the doors to explore a wide range of common interests with other gardeners — having access to educational programs, growing food for personal use or community food banks, participating in service projects to beautify and preserve our community, promoting environmental stewardship, practicing artistic design in floral arranging, and simply having fun.”

All of the clubs have plant sales —— potted plants, perennials, shade plants, trees, vegetables. Look for them and other programs and events on their Facebook pages (all of the local garden clubs have a Facebook page).

By the way, the Medford Garden Club can brag that it has attracted an impressive six men to the club.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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Members of the Jacksonville Garden Club spruce up the plantings at the Jacksonville post office, left to right, Jeanena White Wilson, Sue Miller, Eloise Cady, Bev Helvie, Sally Melgard. - photo by David Doi
Mary Jo Bohnenkamp, left, and GeRee Lane show off arrangements at the Jacksonville Garden Club’s Holiday Greens Sale in December, which raises money for local scholarships. - COURTESY PHOTO