How to grow a garden club: Wiscasset’s takes off

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 8:45am

Kerry Ann Mendez had a first in Wiscasset Jan. 9. The upstate New York-raised Kennebunk resident has given gardening talks around the U.S. and overseas. Some clubs are stiff, some warm, making her feel like a friend when she walks in.

But in an interview and during her talk to about 50 Garden Club of Wiscasset members and guests, she said she never had been greeted by piano-playing until she entered First Congregational Church of Wiscasset’s Fellowship Hall to meet with the club.

Texan turned Wiscasset resident Terry Heller plays the piano as people settle into each month’s meeting. She explained, the music’s vibration gives off a positive vibration to all those around. That day, she played “Let it snow.”

Between the live music and everyone’s smiles and friendliness she commented on, too, did Mendez feel like a friend? “Oh, yes. I did,” she said in the church kitchen before her talk.

Mendez, 63, was there to talk frugal gardening. Look for deals at shows and at businesses’ cart sales, seek out big plants that will add a lot to a garden, and when you like a biennial, consider a similar perennial instead, the “Budget-Wise Gardener” author, Perennially Yours owner, and consultant at Estabrook’s Garden Center in Yarmouth advised. Biennials are typically first year foliage, second year flowers, third year dead, she said.

Mendez said to be open to native plants, and not just the pre-pilgrims North American ones. And however cheap you can get a plant, think further: “Just because it’s a great price doesn’t mean it’s a great plant (and) something you want to invite into your garden bed.”

President Beth Maxwell said the club has grown in recent months from 72 members to 95, such a hike she said a national level gardeners’ group has asked what the club is doing to make that happen. So what’s the secret? Maxwell and other members cited a multi-pronged approach grounded in a strength of the decades-old club: Its welcoming attitude.

The club took part throughout Wiscasset Art Walk’s 2019 season, held an ice cream social in Westport Island last summer and has been encouraging members to bring friends to the monthly meetings. Being out in the community, doing projects and meeting monthly all send the message the group is active, Maxwell said. She added, three new members in one day each reported a past meeting gave them a sense of the group’s friendliness, and it stuck with them. 

Near a post-meeting spread of fruit skewers, desserts, coffee, tea, vegetables and dip, deviled eggs and more, Boothbay Harbor’s John Tristan said he was glad he came after seeing a newspaper announcement. The longtime gardener has botanical gardens experience out of state. He called Mendez a dynamic speaker and said he learned some things. Looking around the gathering, he said: “I think it’s incredible.”