You may be familiar with the horticultural efforts of the Men’s Gardening Club of Asheville without even realizing it. For over 75 years, the club has beautified locations across the city. These days, the group’s work is on display at Beaver Lake, UNC Asheville’s Reuter Center, Asheville Community Theatre and on the grounds of the Smith-McDowell House.
Ahead of the club’s biannual plant sale at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville’s Days in the Garden event on Friday, May 4, noon-6 p.m. and Saturday, May 5, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m., members are gearing up for a new season of education and community service.
Founded in 1939, the club spearheaded the local World War II Victory Garden initiative, helping fellow Asheville residents grow food to free up resources for the war effort. Later, the group turned its attention to supporting the Charles George VA Medical Center, the YMCA, Asheville GreenWorks and local schools.
These days, about 90 men are continuing this legacy of community service, says Gerry Hardesty, who joined the club after moving to Asheville from the Chicago area in 1990.
Tim Tipton, executive director of the Western North Carolina Historical Association, says the club’s work to restore and maintain the Smith-McDowell House & Museum’s landscape allows visitors “to step back in time and enjoy pleasures from a time past.”
“In today’s time of smartphones and instant gratification, it is rewarding to see folks disconnect for a few minutes and enjoy the view and scent of blooming flowers and budding plants,” Tipton says.
Seeds of tomorrow
The Men’s Garden Club bases its operations out of a greenhouse facility off Azalea Road in East Asheville.
Showing Xpress around in March, Hardesty noted, “We’ll have 10,000 plants in here,” including a variety of geraniums, marigolds, petunias and zinnias. In addition, the club propagates woody shrubs each summer to sell in the fall.
Proceeds from the plant sales fund beautification projects across the city, as well as two scholarships at Mayland College and Blue Ridge Community College for students interested in horticulture. Scholarship recipients have gone on to work for The Biltmore Co., B.B. Barns and several local nurseries.
The club also aims to educate the public and inspire the next generation of gardeners. The group’s meetings, held on the first Tuesday of the month at the First Baptist Church of Asheville at 5 Oak St., feature guest speakers on a variety of garden-related topics. The group also organizes periodic field trips.
Another annual highlight is the club’s container garden contest for kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms in the Asheville City and Buncombe County schools. (See “Container gardening contest seeks elementary classroom participation,” March 10, 2016, Xpress)
“The point is not the awards, it’s to introduce them to gardening at a young age,” says Hardesty, who turned 90 in March. “These are old guys — grandfathers and great-grandfathers — working with six-, seven- and eight-year-olds. It’s intergenerational.”
Creating bonds between generations and neighbors is perhaps the most important function of the Men’s Gardening Club, agrees Ralph Lambert, another longtime member. “For me, it’s getting the friendships with the fellow members, the camaraderie and the ability to share common interests.”
Members range in age from 30 to 90; some are new to gardening, while others are seasoned veterans. The majority are transplants to the area, says Nelson Sobel, who arrived in 2006.
While the monthly meetings and events are open to the public, club membership is restricted to men, notes Hardesty. “There are 22 women’s garden clubs in Asheville; this is the only men’s garden club.”
“We welcome new members, whether expert gardeners or novices,” he says. More information about the club and membership is available at mensgardenclubofasheville.org.
“Horticulture is important, but the friendship is more important,” Hardesty concludes. “That’s what brings people into the club.”
WHAT: Men’s Garden Club of Asheville biannual plant sale
WHEN: Friday, May 4, noon-6 p.m. and Saturday, May 5, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m.
WHERE: Botanical Gardens at Asheville, 151 W.T. Weaver Blvd., Asheville
MORE INFO: See mensgardenclubofasheville.org or the events page for the Botanical Gardens at avl.mx/4ug