MILFORD - Every year the streets of Milford are adorned with flowers placed by many who have a love of their town and an appreciation for flowers. For years, members of the Milford Garden Club have worked to enhance their community, while taking part in a hobby that can extend beyond their own gardens.
This year marks the 80th for the club that started in 1937 after a group of women realized they wanted their interest in flowers to continue after an annual flower show. There are over 80 members, with several who participate in the club’s activities that tend to “interest them” says Linda Pinto the president of the club.
Flowers, club member Kathy Vannatta says are “wonderful” as they are “uplifting” and make people smile. But, there is more to the club then flowers, since members maintain a community garden at the Milford Township building, flowers at the welcome to Milford signs, give a yearly scholarship to a Delaware Valley student pursuing horticulture, working the Secret Garden Tour, managing public relations, being with friends or just doing what they can to contribute their efforts.
Members maintain two of the small parks in town, Barkley and Triangles, with flowers. Pinto says there is an unofficial “partnership” between the club and Milford, as the members work to keep the town “more beautiful and attractive” by placing wreaths on poles during the Christmas season, which makes the area appear “festive.” Because of the work done in the parks, they are a “place of dignity.” As well as the cornstalks in the fall and work at the Veteran’s memorial.
Men participate too
Pinto as well as others were introduced to the club by someone who was already involved. Pinto joined after the only male in the club at the time, asked her husband to attend a meeting. Today, there are five men who participate.
For Karen Cowern, it was the “beautification aspect” of the club that got her attention and a love for flowers she says. As a child, Cowern recalls planting flowers with her mother. More has come from being involved, as Cowern has made friends and met people she likely would not have otherwise, as members come from the around the Tri-State area, each sharing their knowledge and skill.
The club’s beatification work around town, was the reason Vannatta got involved after she retired as well as having a “love for flowers” she says. More has come from her participation though, as it is a “club of friends” who do things besides planting flowers.
Together, members are involved in the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania that has a state convention with speakers. Such events, Pinto says offers a “nourishment of your soul” as the friends get together because of a shared interest. Although it is a gardening club, not all members have their own gardens, but rather have an interest in being with others because the club provides a “sense of community.”
The members enjoy the various elements of the club differently, with Cowern liking the flowers along Main Street and seeing others appreciate the flowers. For the different seasons, the members change the flowers in the urns, and despite it being a lot of work, she says the flowers make it feel like summer lasts longer.
For Pinto, she likes Remembrance Place as it is the “most sacred;” but seeing others appreciate the flowers in Milford is rewarding. The members’ dedication, is what makes everything happen as some are in town watering the flowers as early as 6:30 in the morning. All total, there are 29 urns as well as flower boxes at a few buildings in town.
In the fall, there is a display at the Community House with scarecrows, cornstalks, pumpkins and flowers as well as a pumpkin contest. A community member, every year Hank Sanders donates the hundred pound pumpkins. Once pumpkin season is over, Sanders removes the pumpkins from town. For that, Johnson says the club is “very grateful.”
The scarecrows are popular with the community as well, as people are often seen taking pictures with them. That, Johnson says makes them a great part of Milford. It is the club members Pinto says, that makes the club so great because while one may come up with a “brilliant idea” others are ready to get involved. There is a plan for a scarecrow contest among merchants in town, which hasn’t been done before. New ideas are always entertained as a children’s program at the Community Garden will be happening because members want more people involved.
Secret Garden Tour
For 25 years, the Secret Garden Tour has highlighted private gardens around the Milford area. As part of the tour, people visit them for a fee with a map that leads them to the residences in the area. Last year, over 300 people took the tour, for some it has become a family tradition. The tour stays within Milford, Johnson says so people can walk through town and enjoy whatever else they please. Some of the gardens belong to club members, while others don’t. After so many years, Johnson says it’s become a challenge finding new gardens within Milford.
Through their participation over the years, several members say they have learned from others, such as Johnson who’s learned what flowers do. Other lessons have been “very basic” Vannatta says, about how to plant a plant. One early lesson Cowern had, was when planting anything, the hole needs to be dug and then filled with water before placing the dirt, so the water is around the roots. That way, the roots get the water quickly, explains Cowern.
Despite the shared knowledge and years of experience, no matter the gardener deer are always a challenge, because the region is surrounded by woods. Vannatta says if not an actual fence, there are liquid fences that are awfully “stinky stuff” to spray on plants. But, if deer are hungry, they will eat “just about anything.” The struggle however, goes beyond deer since there are woodchucks, moles and voles that dig underground and eat the roots of plants. One year when the Community Garden was new and a part of the Secret Garden Tour, two weeks before the day, a groundhog destroyed the garden by eating the broccoli, beans and more. But that, Pinto says was a “teaching opportunity” and ideas were born to remove the animal. In fact, Vannatta adds, “we’re always learning.”
This year, at the start of the season, members joined at the Community Garden at the township building to plant vegetables. The yearly event started after Home Depot donated resources to install several raised beds, refurbished soil and plants. This is the first year for sprinklers in the garden, after the club received a grant from the Greater Pike Foundation and Barbara Buchanan Fund. Over the last five years, members have collected nearly 400 pounds of vegetables a year. But now, with the sprinkler system, Pinto says the amount is expected to “increase exponentially.”
All total there are 32 beds at the Community Garden, that are maintained by volunteers who simply “like to get their hands dirty” says Pinto. This year there were beets and peas planted, but once the warmer weather comes there were plans to plant pumpkins, sunflowers and cucumbers as well as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
Volunteers’ efforts go beyond picking the vegetables, as they must also weed because the soil is so good explains Pinto. Harvesting should happen around mid-June, early July and August. The fresh vegetables will end up at the Ecumenical Food Pantry at St. John’s Church that serves the Tri-State area.
A club member, Connie Nickles loves to garden because she feels it is “peaceful” she says. Even the weeding can be fun, since it is a “mindless activity that serves a purpose.”
Since 2002 Sue Smith has been a member because she just likes “seeing things grow” she says with a laugh. Before the installation of the new sprinkler system, Smith was a waterer of the plants in the Community Garden. To see the system come to, that Smith is excited about.
Having been “blessed” in their own lives, giving back is important Pinto says, because from the Community Garden come August, 35 to 40 zucchinis along with boxes of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will be delivered to people in need, giving them fresh food.
In the Community Garden as well, animals are a task but it just means members must “keep vigilance” says Pinto, as they visit once a day to check the traps. The animals are baited with peaches and corn on the cob. But, no animal is harmed as they will be released at Grey Towers. In an attempt to block the creatures, there is a dual fence, which will stop the woodchucks when they dig; but for rabbits, there is a second fence.
A club member who likes socializing, Sue Daley manages the club’s public relations. Daley who has been involved for 11 years, follows the lead of others who show her what needs to be done. Before the sprinkler system, Daley would water the plants and that, she’ll miss because it was a “tranquilizing experience” she says. For Daley is it the friendships and learning experiences that she loves, since she can identify more than a rose today.
Little piece of heaven
On the day of planting, Daley joked that others laugh when they “see me in the dirt” and she is okay with that. In years past, when watering plants and later seeing them grow, it was like watching a “little piece of heaven grow” that made the efforts worthwhile.
For 20 years, Alice Jane Loewrigkeit has been a member of the Milford Garden Club. Loewrigkeit too, says it’s the other members that make the club what it is. Looking at a potato that has eyes, Loewrigkeit tells how if its cut into pieces and planted, more potatoes will grow from that. That example, she says is just one of many lessons people don’t know about their food and the reality is that, the “Milford Garden Club offers something for everyone.”
New members are always welcome says Pinto, with meetings happening the second Tuesday of every month at 1:00 at the Presbyterian Church on Broad Street. For more information about the Milford Garden Club visit http://www.milfordgardenclub.com/.