Grow Together: Why Garden Clubs Matter

We garden more. We garden younger. But do we garden together?

The most recent National Gardening Survey, conducted by Garden Research, showed gardening’s full bloom: Fully 77 percent of American households now boast at least one green thumb, with participation among adults 34 and younger reaching “an all-time high.”

This demographic shift has proved a boon for how-to and advice apps, which, Garden Research found, younger gardening enthusiasts are turning to by “the millions.” But if you think this means real-world gardening clubs have been plowed over, then think again.

Here’s why garden clubs matter today:

You want info? You get info.

Video tutorials — on how to grow tomatoes, how to start an indoor garden, and how to do pretty much anything garden-related — are great, plentiful and always available at the swipe of your finger. But today’s gardening enthusiast, while generally “hungry for how-to [information],” also has an appetite for in-person instruction, per Garden Research analysis. That’s where clubs and associations can come in.

“Local gardening clubs provide information extremely specific to the local climates, conditions, challenges and an easier road to success,” says author and container-garden expert Marylee Pangman, host of GroupWorks’ gardening channel.

The National Garden Clubs, with 5,000 local member clubs, 165,000 coast-to-coast members and a mission to connect gardeners with information and resources, offers courses on horticulture, design, environmental studies and more to members and non-members alike. Some are so-called self-study, but others are conducted in classroom settings. Remember: Not even the best gardening video or app can take — and instantly respond to — questions, like an instructor or club leader can.

You want help? You get help.

Community gardening, the act of shared gardening on either public or private land, is booming: Participation skyrocketed 200 percent from 2008 to 2013, according to a study, while the number of community gardens in the United States and Canada has been placed at 18,000.

That’s a big number — big enough make the overwhelmed newcomer ask: Where on Earth do I start?

Digital resources, such as those offered by the online-oriented National Gardening Association, are, of course, a must. But groups that are grounded in the real world, such the American Community Gardening Association, representing more than 2,100 affiliated gardens nationwide, should be on your resource list, too. The ACGA will not only help you find a community garden, it’ll help you nurture your own gardening community.

“The American Community Gardening Association helps serve community-garden organizations throughout the country by providing technical support and educational training,” says association board president Charlie Monroe says. “ACGA also provides members networking opportunities and operational resources.”

You want connection? You get connection.

“The internet lacks personality and face-to-face relationships. Meeting with locals is exciting, motivating and full of discovery,” says Pangman, who joined her first gardening clubs, including the American Rose Society‘s Rose Society of Tucson, after moving to the Arizona desert and discovering her passion for gardening. “The Internet will never do that.”

You want to grow something beautiful? You can grow something really beautiful.

GroupWorks’ own Keep Phoenix Beautiful is an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, the national nonprofit dedicated to helping make a cleaner, greener, more scenic country, chapter by chapter, community by community. Like its parent organization, much of Keep Phoenix Beautiful’s work is focused on anti-littering campaigns, recycling education and, as member Terry Gellenbeck puts it, “beautification — that’s where our community gardens fit.”

“Our garden mission is to provide a place for community members of urban areas that have no access to yards or open spaces for gardening,” says Gellenbeck, who serves as Keep Phoenix Beautiful’s director of recycling, “while beautifying what was previously a vacant lot.”

You want to save the Earth? You just might be able to do that, too.

Most leading garden-club associations dig in for the environment on several fronts. The more-than-century-old Garden Club of America, bolstered by the combined power of its 200 member clubs and 18,000 nationwide members, funds scholarships that encourage college students to pursue environmental studies. Keep America Beautiful sponsors the annual National Planting Day, which encourages communities to introduce more native plants and trees to their neighborhoods. The National Gardens Club helps promote sustainable gardens.

How-to apps are great tools, but for advocacy, information and connection, garden clubs just may be the whole shed.