Last week while on a field visit to a lady's house to diagnose tree problems, I asked if she wanted me to check anything else in her yard. She was a budding gardener who hadn't been at it very long. Her yard, inherited with the recently purchased house, was rampant with weeds, a real tangled mess. We walked the small lot—she, a little nervous and apologetic, and me, trying to find something positive to say about the plants in between the weeds. The garden was in dire need of a major overhaul, but she was busy renovating the inside of the house and confided to me that she was short on funds and couldn't afford to buy plants.
I looked over at the white top, a nasty invasive weed, in full bloom in one of the borders and deadly nightshade with its purple, star-like flowers twining around in another bed. I asked if she knew what those plants were; she didn't. She said she liked their flowers and thought that they might be some flowering perennials left by the previous owner. She proudly pointed out the only other blossom color in her yard, some lettuce plants that had bolted (put up a flower stalk). She indeed was new at this gardening game.
We surveyed a 3-by-5 foot rectangle of bare ground she had dug out of the turf for a veggie garden and she mentioned that she composted all of her kitchen scraps. "It's a start," I thought. As I started to leave she murmured, "This is probably the worst garden you've ever seen." It was pretty close, but I didn't want to discourage her. When I looked at her I saw someone hopeful who wanted to become a gardener. I thought about the bounty of blooms back in my own garden and remembered that I had started out just like her, a neo-gardener low on funds with a high desire to learn the gardening trade. I asked her if she'd like some flowering perennials from my yard. I was reworking a bed and needed to make room for new plants. I watched her eyes light up. I too must have looked like that long ago when I received my first freebie plants.
Half the fun of gardening is sharing—plants, seeds, gardening tips and knowledge. One way to partake and become involved is to join a garden club or plant society. There are close to 20 of them in and around the Treasure Valley. Gardeners are certainly some of the friendliest and most generous people around. In a garden club, not only will you make many friends, but you'll also be hobnobbing with some of the most skilled gardeners and plant connoisseurs in the state. It's an excellent way to improve your gardening knowledge.
Plant societies differ from garden clubs in one way—they specialize in learning about a particular plant or group of plants, like roses or native plants. Garden clubs, on the other hand, tend to be interested in all facets of gardening. Both garden clubs and plant societies plan fun activities throughout the year such as plant sales, flower shows and garden tours. They often are involved in projects to beautify the community. The rose garden in Julia Davis Park is a good example; it's pruned every year by members of the Idaho Rose Society.
Many of the clubs and societies have monthly newsletters they send to members with great gardening tips and news. At informal, monthly meetings you'll hear guest speakers talk on a variety of horticultural subjects. Combine that with the plant swapping and learning trade secrets from plant experts and you'll be well on your way to discovering the wonderful world of the very green thumbed. And no, you don't have to be an expert to join a garden club or plant society, all skill levels are graciously accepted into the fold.
Deciding which club or society to join can be a challenge though; they all have so much to offer. You may want to be affiliated with more than one. If native plants and ethno-botany (how different cultures use plants) is what you're after, take a trek into the desert with the Native Plant Society. Want to grow or breed the biggest and best irises around? Then look into the Pollen Daubers. They boast some of the best iris breeders in the state. There are societies that specialize in roses, bonsai, mums, orchids, dahlias and gladioli. Or you can take a walk on the wild side with the mycologists (mushroom experts) from the Idaho Mycological Society to learn where the finest fungi hide out. There's even a group that specializes in making and maintaining ponds and aquatic plants.
Many of the garden clubs have fun sounding names like the Merry Tillers, the Transplants and the Petal Pushers. Flower judges reign aplenty in these groups. Ask them to show you how to arrange flowers or exhibit a winning entry at the fair. Garden clubs and plant societies are scattered around the Treasure Valley. You're bound to find one near you.
For a list of garden clubs and plant societies in Southwest Idaho, stop by the Ada County Extension Office at 5880 Glenwood Street in Boise. The list will cost you one thin dime, a small price to pay for living your horticultural dream. And by the way, I'm still reworking that garden if you need a few plants.
Suzann Bell is a horticulturist with the University of Idaho Extension in Boise. Send your gardening questions to Suzann at the Ada County Extension Office or e-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.