Gardeners of South Whidbey continue philanthropy, spreading natural beauty

Winter is no time to rest for the busy bodies of the South Whidbey Garden Club.

Winter is no time to rest for the busy bodies of the South Whidbey Garden Club.

With more than 80 official members, the club dedicated to beautifying the natural environs from Greenbank to Clinton, there is little time for a break. Members are busy this time of year tending to their gardens in preparation of spring and summer, and most importantly the club’s annual plant sale in late April. Rain or shine, they’re likely to be outside, pulling weeds or pruning trees, or at the least looking from inside, planning what needs to be done on the next clear day.

“Gardeners are the weirdest people. We do go out in this,” said Christine Johnson, the South Whidbey club’s publicity chairwoman, during a recent rainstorm prior to stepping outside for a brief inspection and tour of her Langley garden.

The majority of the plants at the sale come from members’ gardens. There are also used gardening tools, a bake sale, outside vendors and a raffle as part of the one-day sale.

That money is used for grants intended to help beautify public areas and for an annual scholarship to a high school student. Over the past five years, more than $12,000 was collected from the sale and then redistributed to environmental stewardship, horticultural education and community beautification groups. In 2015, $2,050 raised from the plant sale was awarded in grants to the Langley Main Street Association, Clinton Progressive Association, South Whidbey Tilth and South Whidbey High School’s agriculture class.

“When funding beautification projects, we have to be careful to spread our money to all the areas and not give preferential treatment,” Johnson said.

Spreading the wealth and plant health is important to the club’s members. The Greenbank, Coupeville, and Oak Harbor clubs have dedicated gardens or areas that are their responsibility. South Whidbey Garden Club does not have any such obligation, instead opting to share its knowledge and funds with other groups within its borders.

Johnson and club co-President Yvette Lantz said winter is ideal for pruning, transplanting and dividing flora.

That doesn’t mean South Whidbey’s club gardeners don’t rise to an occasion. Since 1949, the South Whidbey Garden Club has worked to improve flora and people’s appreciation of nature through education, socializing and philanthropy. The club planted daffodils in Langley and helped with a planting in Clinton, including the money and plants for the Clinton Community Hall rain garden. The bright yellow flowers now bloom each spring across the South End.

Being a member in the South Whidbey club carries little to no obligations for membership outside of nominal dues. There’s no test for how interested in plants and gardening a prospective member is. One need no prior knowledge or experience to join, and both Lantz and Johnson said plenty of members first signed up with the intent to learn from “green-thumbs” they can have tea and cookies with.

“I try to know all of them, but if I don’t have a relationship it’s not likely,” Lantz said.

Those relationships can form quickly. Johnson and Lantz were both transplants, like so many of the plants in their respective back yards, to Whidbey Island. Joining the club was a way to meet new people while learning about a burgeoning hobby.

It helped out 91-year-old member Midge Billig after her husband died. A neighbor invited her to one of the club meetings, the rest, as they say, is history.

“I’ve been going ever since,” she said.

The free flow of gardening tips doesn’t end when two or more of the members are together. During a visit to Johnson’s immaculately landscaped home, Billig and Lantz heap praise onto Johnson for her plant selections and their health. Some vegetation in the front yard wasn’t faring as well, however, and Billig had a quick thought about the culprit: dog urine.

Gardening, they warn, can become a preoccupation — not quite an obsession.

“There’s always something to do in the garden,” Lantz said. “That’s the good news and that’s the bad news.”

But they argue that the benefits of an active life, fresh air, the therapeutic power of keeping living plants alive and finding new friends all outweigh the muddy boots and sore joints.