"The Garden Club, a South Whidbey perennial"
June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:10 PM
"Rhonda Permenter of the South Whidbey Garden Club creates sculptural designs by combining cut flowers with non-plant materials such as rusty screws, coils and other items she scavenges.Candace Allen photoClub factsThe South Whidbey Island Garden Club meets monthly. Annual membership is $10, and includes Evergreen Tips, the district newsletter. The next club meeting will be held Feb. 16, 10:30 a.m. at the Clinton Progressive Club Hall and will include a Washington State Master Gardener program about New Garden Basics. Anyone interested in attending should call Joanne Hannah, 221- 8124, for details.You have to design what you like, Rhonda Permenter said, looping a computer disk onto the branch of a curly willow. Permenter creates sculptural designs by combining cut flowers with non-plant materials such as rusty screws, coils and other items she scavenges. Rust goes well with orange, she said, placing a Gerbera daisy next to a rusty coil. The recycle park is your best friend. Twisting a Venetian blind slat, Permenter showed members at last month's South Whidbey Island Garden Club meeting how to use forms and shapes to create angular designs and motion within a floral arrangement. Whether you like stark sculptural or more traditional arrangements with lots of flowers and greenery, Permenter demonstrated that the principles of good design apply: scale, symmetry, balance, rhythm and contrast.The South Whidbey Island Garden Club was founded in 1949 by 10 charter members, including the club's first president, Vanessa Gabelein. The legacy of original members and their goal of creating an interest in gardening and inspiring an appreciation in others for flowers and birds has continued for more than 50 years.Recently, the club has had an influx of new members. At the last meeting, five visitors enrolled, bringing the membership to 52. According to Marian Fitzpatrick, membership chair, newcomers who move to Whidbey from out of state want to learn more about the native plants and landscaping of the Pacific Northwest. President Dori Shattuck said that our island's unique climatic conditions of winds and sea air, as well as our sandy and clay soils can be a challenge.About this time of year, people start moving back toward the earth and are interested in getting a head start in their garden, Joanne Hannah, publicity chairwoman, said. Most of the club's members, Hannah explained, join for two reasons. First, they want to learn the common sense stuff about gardening: how to start seeds, what to do about rust on roses or notches on Rhododendron leaves. They want answers to common horticultural questions such as, Do I have to take the dahlias out of the ground or can I mulch them and pray? Second, members are interested in learning the design side of arranging flowers.Each month, the club hosts a luncheon, demonstration and flower show. According to Shattuck, the club draws its speakers from both local talent, such as Rain Shadow Gardens, and from off island experts, such as David Sessions, a professional landscaper and designer whose arrangements appear at hotels and society events. Members who want to participate in the club flower show bring a horticultural specimen or a theme oriented arrangement to the meeting. A trio of judges reviews the exhibits. Master judge and 42-year member Madeline Permenter explained that each display is judged against perfection. If a display measures up, it will earn a blue ribbon. Besides, she said, It's nice to show off if you have something really special.Madeline Permenter and her daughter-in-law Rhonda are the club's only nationally accredited judges. It takes three years of schooling to become an accredited judge, and years more than that to reach the highest level of master. The two are in demand at district and state flower shows. At the local level, you don't have to be accredited to judge, because, Madeline explained, You learn by judging.Vice-president and 15-year member Midge Billig offers the group a wealth of information. Billig, who has a bachelor's degree in agriculture, met her husband while working at the gardenia and orchid growing company E.W McLellan. Later, they grew plants for wholesalers and for 35 years owned a nursery and flower shop.Billig is a fan of longtime member Dorothy Ford. You can see Ford's dahlias if you drive by Wheel Estates on Bayview Drive. Dorothy's a great gardener, Billig said. She has a green thumb and four green fingers. Make that two green thumbs and eight green fingers. Since the club's inception 51 years ago, it has contributed to the beautification of South Whidbey through civic and environmental projects. Among the many gifts the club has provided to the community are plants and landscaping for South Whidbey State Park, South Whidbey High School and Middle School, the Island County Fairgrounds and Clinton Progressive Hall, as well as a flowering cherry tree for Bayview Cemetery. The club also adopted a stretch of Sandy Point Road as part of its anti-litter program. This year, the South Whidbey Garden Club, together with a social gardening club called the Night Crawlers, will provide labor and cash for landscaping the Habitat for Humanities house. Currently the club is awaiting the go-ahead from the state to help with landscaping at the Park and Ride, but I-695 and the postponement of the installation of a traffic light at the corner of Bayview and Highway 525 have put that project on hold.At the last meeting, Dorothy Ford reminded everyone, Get your plants potted up, for the annual plant sale in May. Income from that sale is used to help cover expenses, including the annual scholarship awarded each year to a senior high school student interested in pursuing a career in horticulture or environmental conservation.The club is an energetic group of young and old, experienced and those new to gardening. Shattuck said this combination has sparked lots of discussion about everything from integrative pest management to when blossoms should be picked and how to display them.The club belongs to the Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs and the National Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc., enabling local members to participate in district, state, and national gardening events. "