Garden Clubs touch our communities in ways you might not realize. In this episode we find out how ancient trees, gas stations, and garden tours help make the Triangle a better place to live. Find out more about the Chapel Hill Garden Club tour on their tour page.
Thanks to Garden Destinations for making this story possible
A while back I found myself stuck in a traffic jam in Raleigh. Sitting in my car I noticed a group of trees along the road that just didn’t look like they belonged. So I grabbed my phone and snapped a few pictures. When I got home I was able to identify the trees as Dawn Redwoods and then I got curious. How had those trees wound up on the side of the road in Raleigh? The answer to my question may have started with extinct trees but helped me see just how hard gardeners work make our communities better places to live.
I’m Lise Jenkins and this is the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. Support from Garden Destinations made this story possible. Garden Destinations is a digital magazine showcasing the world’s finest public gardens. Whether you’re planning a trip or doing some armchair traveling Garden Destinations is a great stop on your journey. You can find it at GardenDestinations.com
My curiosity about this grove of trees in Pullen Park started because these trees were once thought to be extinct. The Dawn Redwood is a deciduous conifer species in the redwood family. Its botanical name Metasequoia alludes to the Redwood giants of the west. “Meta” is Greek for “like” or “similar to”. Thus Metasequoia means “like Sequoia”. While not quite as large as its west-coast cousin, the Dawn Redwood can grow well over 150 feet tall. It had been found in fossil records in North America but was thought to have vanished millions of years ago.
But this ‘extinct’ tree was discovered in the mountains of China in the 1940s. Seeds were collected and sent to Europe and North America. Some of those seeds found their way to Duke Gardens, where they were propagated. Duke Gardens was part of a network of gardens promoting the Dawn Redwood tree. They held classes and gave seedlings to groups to plant. One of those groups was the Raleigh Garden Club which planted 40 of seedlings in Pullen Park in 1976 as part of Bicentennial celebrations. Since its founding the Raleigh Garden Club has improved the appearance of public spaces all over the city. But what really got them fired up? It was the automobile.
I’m Erica Winston and this year I’m program chair for the Raleigh Garden Club. But I’ve actually been a member for 20 years in 2018. So this is my twenty year as a member.
Erica took me on at tour of Pullen Park and she told me a bit about the club’s early days.
This is going way back in time. Gas stations. When they first came out with the cars and the garden clubs were organized in the late 1920s and even early 20s. They were starting to put gas stations in neighborhoods. Which, of course, was change and created an outcry. “We don’t want these ugly things in our neighborhood. It’s loud and we don’t want cars anyway.” The garden club held a competition, within 8 miles of Raleigh, for the gas station —the filling station as they called it then, that had the nicest landscape plantings. To make them pretty and gardeny and make them blend in with the neighborhood. Again, we see that everywhere today. Gas stations almost always have nice plantings around them, expect maybe on a big highway. But neighborhood ones do. It was the garden club that stepped in and said, “We’re going to do something about this.”
And they did. The Raleigh Garden Club has planted nearly 1300 trees and countless other plants in public spaces across Raleigh.
Across the Triangle in Chapel Hill, the Chapel Hill Garden Club has been a force for good since they began in 1931. But perhaps they are best known for their biennial garden tour which opens private gardens to participants who come from across the Triangle, the state and even beyond our boarders. Thousands of hours go into creating these tours and the proceeds are donated to the North Carolina Botanical Garden. I was invited to meet with several of the club’s officers and tour chairs —both and present. This lively group explained over lunch that their club is more than just gardening.
GARDEN CLUB GROUP
You could call our club a newcomers club. Because so many people move here and choose to retire here. They get word, as I did, about this garden club. And I thought I was going to walk into a bunch of old ladies. But it was not a bunch of blue haired old ladies. It was a bunch of incredible people. It’s like walking into an open heart.
It’s not just that we go to a meeting and listen to a really cool speaker talk about…. The connective tissue that is created by the tasks we do is incredible. The other thing is I think about why we are drawn to come at all. It’s all about creating life and nurturing life. That’s what we are doing. That’s how I feel about it. Then you extend it into Chapel Hill. So let’s say you’re new. You don’t know what you’re walking into. Everyone is so welcoming. Its not like we’re a cliche and we all know each other for years. It’s not like that. We make a real special effort
That special effort has real impact. Over the years the club has donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the Botanical Garden. They’ve help fund educational programs, childrens’ programs, and some really innovative ideas. The two-day event attracts people from across our state. But as the committee chairs talked about what went into making the tour work, I kept thinking about what it would take to get a garden ready for such an event. So when Jan Dean, who’s garden is on this year’s tour offered to show me her garden, I jumped at her offer.
I’m Jan Dean. You’re here in my garden that I have been tending since 2009. It is going to be one of the gardens featured on this year’s Chapel Hill Spring Garden Tour in April.
Jan showed me her garden and you can hear more of tour on our podcast. Just visit TriangleGardener.com and go to the podcast category. Its the episode entitled “Garden Tour Preview”. As we walked around her garden she let me in on some of the garden tour secrets for producing stunning results at exactly the right time.
Our tour flower this year is the Allium. So what you see here are, I don’t know how many bulbs of Allium of various colors, and I’m experimenting. I didn’t want to put them into the ground. I’m experimenting with trying to grow them in containers. If they come up and they look nice at tour time, I’m going to then cut and paste. I’m going to remove them and put them in planters and other strategic spots in the garden. They like sun and that’s why I have them out here as its gets sun a good part of the day. We’ll see what happens. Its my experiement with Allium.
That’s a great garden tour tip that you can strategically tuck in plants.
It’s my dream that somehow they will come up at tour time and be in bloom. I saw in a garden magazine a spectacular planter where the whole center of it were these Alliums poking up and then draped all around it were these pansies and spring colorful things. I said, ‘Oh if only I could recreate that’. I just don’t know that I could do that. I know for a fact that garden photography does a lot of staging. So that’s why, I shouldn’t tell my secretes. But if it turns out I’m going to try to have some Alliums as little surprises around my garden.
You can see the results of Jan’s hard work on this year’s Chapel Hill Garden Club tour. You can find out more about the tour from a link on our website, TriangleGardener.com
One of the things l like best about doing this show is it lets me follow my curiosity. From a traffic jam to ancient trees to gas stations to an open heart that welcomes everyone. Garden clubs help make our communities better places to live. Gardeners are out there planting trees and making people smile. I’m Lise Jenkins and this is the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. You can also find this and other episodes of our podcast on our website TriangleGardener.com, iTunes, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.