The Pictou Garden Club is a growing success, pun intended.
The club began in 1939 and next year, will mark 80 years of helping to make the community flourish with flora.
“In gardening, your crop varies from good friends, good gardens, good community,” explains garden club member Beth Henderson.
The Pictou Garden Club has all three elements.
The good friends gather monthly to enjoy camaraderie, fellowship and all things garden-related. Meetings are informal and usually feature an educational speaker and a lunch. The gardeners share what they have — both in terms of plants as well as knowledge — and are always welcoming to new members.
“We have potlucks, attend rallies and conventions… We’re expanding and we love to welcome new people. And,” she sweetens the deal, “we always have lunch at our meetings!”
At just $10 a year to be a member plus free plants, it makes membership in the PGC the best deal in town.
Like the flowers they cultivate, everyone in the garden club has different strengths and different expectations.
Member Dawn Westhaver says there are 48 members — men, women and children of all ages. “And we always get a good turnout at the meetings.”
The club’s Junior Gardener program is in its 52nd year. Westhaver enjoys gardening with granddaughters, ages 6 and 8, who are both going to be in the Junior Gardeners program this year.
That’s how it was with garden club member and strong supporter of all things Pictou, Helen Scammell. Her grandfather, John S. Scammell, known as the Pictou Dean of Gardeners, planted the seed.
He had a farm in Island East River and he moved to Pictou so that his only son, Helen’s father Dr. Harold Scammell, could have a better education at Pictou Academy (and West End School). “But the seed was planted in the gardening skills of Helen’s grandfather, John,” says Henderson.
“That was part of the draw for Helen to be involved in the Pictou Garden Club.”
Scammell nods, “My grandfather was the gardener for Hon. E. M. MacDonald, Minister of National Defence, First World War. He was trained in Wiltshire, England, and came over in the good old English tradition.”
Scammell wanted to do something to honour her grandfather’s memory, and so it began.
The group cultivates new members through hard work and pleasant invitation. Scammell laughs, “So many people who move to Pictou get a visit from Beth Henderson…” to which Henderson laughs, “I nab them down at the plant sale with an invitation to become a member of the Pictou Garden Club.”
Scammell says, “When I came here from Halifax I could spot a tulip and a lilac and a daffodil — and a forest of hosta. But I didn’t know anything. I got a real education from the Pictou Garden Club.”
Attachment to the Pictou Garden Club came about in different ways for the three women. Westhaver inherited her love of gardening and acquired her skills and knowledge from her father who had small greenhouses.
“When he retired from the Armed Forces he had already started with doing window boxes.” She recalls with fondness her father using Bon Ami on the window panes to protect the flowers growing in the window boxes from the strength of the sun’s rays. “Does anyone even know what Bon Ami is anymore?” she laughs.
In keeping with the theme of giving back, her father used to make contributions to the Veterans Wing. Henderson says, “We’ve carried on that tradition and Dawn lines it all up.”
Scammell gained her appreciation of gardening from her grandfather and her interest has been nurtured over the years by the garden club members. And for Henderson, her gardening seeds were planted early when growing up on a 45-acre mixed farm which was the livelihood for her family.
Henderson says, “Gardening isn’t always easy but it is a strength in life in the fact that you persevere; it teaches you to keep trying. It is an ongoing learning experience. It does improve you as a person, makes you more open to change.” Westhaver nods, “It makes you realize other things can be changed in your life as well.”
It is evident throughout the conversation that gardening has shaped the three as individuals as the gardening club is more than a gardening club. Members are all the flowers in a gigantic garden and they feed off each other, thrive together, finish each other’s thoughts… like companion gardening and in this case, companion being the person.
Henderson agrees. “It makes you appreciate and give back to your community through partnerships. When we did the Scammell Garden we had mulch and fill donated and delivered at no cost and the Town of Pictou looks after it. We recognize our limitations and develop partnerships.”
Partnerships have taken place with Proudfoots, West River Greenhouses and others. “The majority of our partnerships are with the town and they have been beyond co-operative — because it’s a win-win,” says Scammell.
The club’s current project is Market Square on Water Street. The town and garden club will jointly enhance it to make it more inviting. Members so appreciate the partnership with the Town of Pictou that they give back a portion of the proceeds from their annual plant sale for the town’s hanging baskets. This year they had the most successful plant sale ever — sold out within an hour. Henderson notes, “These were all plants from our own gardens because gardeners love to share.”
“And we’re so appreciative of the people who come to the sale and help support it,” says Westhaver. “We raised more than $1,800 this year.”
The PGC’s work is clearly visible in several areas. Aside from the Scammell Garden and the Pictou Academy and Sir William Dawson monuments, Pictou-North Colchester Exhibition is also supported by their work. Westhaver also puts her considerable skills to work in the gardens at the deCoste Performing Arts Centre, assisted in this venture by club members, if they wish to help. The garden club is also open to change and will have a small part to play in the Seaside Marketplace this season.
“Members often veer off and do other gardening things and we help them,” explains Henderson. In that way, the group is strong as a mighty oak. The garden club is the trunk, the members climb up like the branches and twigs but they’re all still connected.
And they would like to connect with more people and continue to grow their membership. “Come grow with us,” they encourage.
From the left are Pictou Garden Club members Dawn Westhaver, Helen Scammell and Beth Henderson. (Jardine photo)