Garden Clubs – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

Over the next two months you will be seeing advertising for some of the most anticipated Spring Plant Festivals of the season. This is the time of year all of the garden clubs, plant societies, and even the Botanical Gardens gear up to sell their plants to the general public. These shows are fun, informative, and a great place to find those plants the garden centers rarely seem to carry. I attend many of these venues and from my own experience; I think you will enjoy attending at least a few of these shows over the next few months. Even if you are not interested in purchasing a new plant, you may find useful information on how to care for or propagate your own plants. This week I would like to tell you some of the differences I have found about these distinct groups and what you can expect when you attend one of these plant festivals.

Garden Clubs are usually local clubs or communities that band together to encourage amateur gardeners to develop their gardening skills. Many homeowners are transplants from different parts of the country and have little or no idea how to grow plants and vegetables in our Floridaclimate. Garden clubs can help you learn these skills by giving you the necessary information you need to become a productive grower. Once you learn about Florida Gardening, your new skills may be used for vegetable gardening or tending to your personal landscape. As your knowledge base continues to grow, you may find the opportunity to be part of horticultural projects such as the floral arts, beautification of the community, teaching other families and their children, and supporting conservation practices. Most garden clubs meet at least once a month and their agendas include plant lectures, demonstrations, field trips to botanical gardens, fund raising to support their clubs, and business meetings.

Garden Clubs specialize in growing many of the common plants we find in our landscape along with a few of the hard to find varieties of plants. These clubs are filled with people that love gardening and enjoy helping others learn from their successes and mistakes they may have made in the past. If you would like to learn about growing plants in your area, you should join one of these many garden clubs. In order to find a club near you, just use your computer to search for a local chapter. I am sure you will find several garden clubs in your area which will be delighted to include you in their membership. When you find a club that interests you, call them.

Most club members grow more plants than they can use in their own gardens or exchange with their members. When this happens, a sales event is planned. Because most garden clubs have a wide variety of plants to sell, your ability to find something special at one of these programs is great. Another nice thing about these sales is that the plants are reasonably priced so you may pick up some great deals and possibly purchase plants you will never see in a garden center. You may even be able to find larger specimen plants you can use as a centerpiece for your garden.

Another feature of these events is meeting people just like you whom share your love of gardening. Time is on your side at these shows as the members that sell their plants love to talk to you about their passion. You can ask as many questions about the plants they have and they love to share their information. I have never felt rushed to make a decision or been brushed off at these events because the person in the booth was too busy to talk to me. Most members love educating the public about their plants and feel pride in having the opportunity to show off their gardening successes by selling the plants they have grown.

Most Garden Clubs do not have big budgets to pay for major advertising in the newspaper or on television to promote their plant sales but rather they rely on word of mouth and flyers sent out to friends and businesses. Some of these events are picked up by the Garden Writers and published in the weekend papers. If you receive the weekend newspaper you should scan the Home section each week to find events in your area. If you are a member of a Garden club and you wish to have your program mentioned on my radio program, Florida Gardening, on 970WFLA, just call-in the studio Sunday mornings or send me a copy of the event schedule to my e-mail address mark@abc-pestcontrol.comand I will mention the show on-air.

Plant Societies are very similar to the Garden Clubs but these groups normally specialize in individual plant species. Some of the societies I have had the pleasure of associating with are the Plumeria Society, the Croton Society, the Begonia Society, the Orchid Society, and the Passiflora Society. People whom belong to these societies have a special interest in their specific genus of plants. Some members may have dozens if not hundreds of cultivars of these individual plants and their love for these plants goes beyond the simple interest factor. I have known some hardcore members that travel the world seeking out individual cultivars of their favorite plants. I guess I may be one of those diehard individuals when it comes to my beloved Plumerias. Maybe when you find a certain plant you really love you want to find more of them. I finally stopped collecting different colors when I reached about one hundred cultivars of the Plumeria. So you can see that there is passion in the plant world.

Some societies like the Rare Fruit Society and the Native Plant Society specialize in many different types of plants but all of which fall into their societies classification. The Rare Fruit Society specializes in many different types of fruit trees and fruiting vines grown in our area. As a former member of this society I can tell you their primary purpose is to inform the public about the merits of fruits common to this area. They also encourage the selection, cultivation, collection, and growth of fruit that is exotic or unusual to West Central Florida. If you have ever wanted to grow exotic fruit or you want to learn about fruits which can grow in this area then you should consider joining one of the local chapters in your area.

Both the Rare Fruit Society and the Native Plant Society have monthly meetings with lectures by guest speakers, seed exchanges, question and answer periods, and refreshments. Because education and conservation is part of these Societies mission statements, you may also be able to help them promote their interests to the public through encouragement and volunteering at their meetings and public events. Although there are usually membership fees to join these Societies, the wealth of information you receive from them is well worth the cost. As a member you can also receive their monthly newsletters and participate in related activities. Whether you are an amateur or a professional, these societies will welcome your participation.

Similar to the Garden Clubs, these Plant Societies have plant sales for members and plant exchanges at their monthly meetings. They also participate in plant shows some of which specialize in just fruit or native plants. Occasionally, these societies will attend large festivals such as the USF Plant Festival, the Florida State Fair, and Native Plant Fairs held at many separate chapter locations. The proceeds collected from these events help to support the efforts of the Society and also supplement the costs associated with operating the Society

Homeowners attending any of the Botanical Garden sales will have the chance to purchase plants you will never be able to find elsewhere. In addition, growers from neighboring communities attend these events and they bring plants that they specialize in growing. These sales are usually very large and may have as many as fifty or more vendors and Societies selling plants. The next big sale in St. Petersburg is the Green Thumb Festival at Walter Fuller Park on April 27th and the 28th. I hope to see you there!

This is a great time of year to find plants for your garden. If you are looking to save money, then your best place to find inexpensive plants are from the local Garden Clubs. If you want a specific cultivar of plant, then you will want to try one of the plant Societies. Botanical garden shows offer the most diversified selection of plants and while you are there you can browse the gardens and look at many of the plants for sale in their natural environments. Try to get to the shows early so you have the best selection of plants and remember, without our plants we would not be here.

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