Green’s not just a concept for Garden Club

For some of our previous coverage on the Garden Club’s annual festivities, check out our earlier story here.

Does the term “garden club” bring to mind ladies with hats and gloves sipping tea?

Would you picture these ladies using Latin names for ordinary flowers, and talking about the abilities of their gardeners?

Can you see these women wearing straw garden hats and flowered gardening gloves, directing holes to be dug and cornus florida, cornus kouse and cercis candensis (dogwoods and redbuds) to be planted?

Well, if you are talking about the Garden Club in Rappahannock County, you would be totally wrong. The women here dig their own planting holes, haul peat moss and bark, propagate their own flowers and shrubs to share with one another, and the only gloves they wear are dirty leather ones, some with holes in the thumbs.

At this time of year, around 40 of them are out in the woods, cutting fresh greens for their only fundraiser of the year, earning money for scholarships to Nature Camps and colleges for our local county students. Here you will see them filling black plastic construction bags with pine, spruce, American and English box, arborvitae, juniper, cypress, nandina and magnolia for their Greens Workshop later this month.

The Rush River Magnolia Wreath, with a 23-inch diameter, is an example of the holiday greens available from the Rappahannock County Garden Club. Courtesy photo.
The Rush River Magnolia Wreath, with a 23-inch diameter, is an example of the holiday greens available from the Rappahannock County Garden Club. Courtesy photo.

Sometimes they cut in snow or rain; sometimes they go up in the bucket of a tractor to get blue cedar berried branches; sometimes they perch on ladders in the back of pickup trucks; sometimes they get someone to cut down a tree and the cutting is easier – but no matter what, they must fill 100 bags full of greenery for the swags, centerpieces, garland and wreaths they have been making since 1954.

In the early days, members made wreaths and centerpieces at home and sold them at various venues in the county. There were no florists nearby, and the freshness of the arrangements and the fact that they lasted throughout the season were great selling points. The first sale garnered a profit of $29.10, but the sales are in the thousands now.

After the hundred or so bags of assorted greenery are cut, they are conditioned for a week in members’ barns, sheds and the north sides of homes. Water is added, and the bags are turned every day so the cuttings absorb the water and last the whole season. The bags are dragged to the Washington fire hall, and the Greens Workshop is set up with tables, wreath-making machines, tables for making arrangements and supplies of all kinds.        

When in full swing, the Garden Club’s Greens Workshop looks like barely-controlled mayhem. The fire hall’s center is piled a yard deep with evergreens of all kinds: box, pine, spruce, etc. On the side nearest the parking lot are three tables with wreath-making machines, and around them are women in hats and gloves (the temperature is kept low for the sake of the greens) clipping away to make bundles for the machines. At the back is the garland machine, and someone is always asking, “How many more feet for this one?”

On the other side are the decorators, with their supplies of bows, nandina berries, wired pine cones, dried Magnolia buds and gold ribbons. Along the wall, large charts tracking all the orders are updated constantly. Periodically, updates are shouted, such as “Only 80 more wreaths to go,” or “Only 100 feet of garland left to do.” 

In the kitchen, members dish out the food that everyone brings to feed the group when they break for a quick lunch. Christmas music fills the air. It smells like Christmas in the fire hall and people are happy, knowing they are earning money for the Garden Club’s charities.

It’s hard work too – standing all day, piling up branches, making proper bundles, and stacking wreaths and yards of greenery. The decorators are busy making sure that the six swags for the church are exactly the same, wondering if the centerpieces ordered by the restaurants are going to be tall enough. This work goes on for three days, and new club members know that cutting greens and working at the fire hall are all requirements for being a part of the club.

Recently, the club moved its project forward so that all the greenery is ready in time for Christmas in Washington. Orders can be taken at any time by contacting Pam Rubin (540-987-9459, ptrubin@aol.com), or Karen Crow (karenLcrow@hotmail.com). The club reevaluates its offerings every year and you can see some spectacular new items for sale at laughingduckgardens.com. Make sure to order before Nov. 21!

Anyone, not just members, can help with this project. So, anyone interested in volunteering or just seeing what it looks like, should come by the Washington fire hall Tuesday (Nov. 27) or Wednesday (Nov. 28) and join in.

The Rappahannock County Garden Club meets on the third Wednesday of every month (usually at the fire hall), and sometimes go on field trips to nurseries and other places. Programs at the hall have covered quail, chestnut tree propagation, growing annuals commercially and other subjects of interest to the community. These programs are open to the public.

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