Garden club teaches healthy lawn tactics; seeks to expand | Herald Community Newspapers

There have been garden clubs in the United States since 1891, when the first was founded in Athens, Georgia. Its main goal is simple: members learn about gardening and how to maintain a healthy garden so that they, in turn, can teach others to become gardeners.

Unknown to many, there is a club in Bellmore-Merrick. The Merrick Garden Club, founded in 1933, has a mission to stay involved in the community and teach new and old members about plants and gardening.

One of the club’s co-presidents, Cheryl Bennett, is a “master gardener.” Bennett, who lives in Merrick, told the Herald that she met the garden club about 25 years ago, at a spring festival where the club sold plants.

Master gardener is a title earned when one enrolls in and completes a master gardener program, Bennett explained. “It’s a federal program that started after the Civil War,” he said. “People were moving west, so what he (the government) did was train people on agriculture and plants. The idea was that those people spread that information to their friends.”

Every state has an agricultural college that can teach a Master Gardener program, Bennett said. In New York, it’s Cornell University, which has a farm on Long Island, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, in East Meadow. There, one can enroll in a 15-week program that includes lectures, assignments, and field training to become a Master Gardener. Two other members of the Merrick Garden Club are also master gardeners.

“I love it,” Bennett said of the title. “I just share the information where I can.”

The club’s other co-president, Ginny Meltzer, who also lives in Merrick, describes herself as a “hobbyist gardener.” She joined the club a few years ago, Meltzer said, and now she and Bennett want to expand it, connect with other groups and educate the community about what the club does.

The club is certified by the state as a non-profit organization. Although it’s called the Merrick Garden Club, Meltzer said, it has members from all over. “We have members in Merrick, East Meadow, Wantagh, Island Park, Massapequa, Bellmore and even Hewlett,” he said. “We really encompass all the surrounding communities.”

The group meets once a month and aside from the little gardening lessons that Bennett can demonstrate, members are also encouraged to be creative and bring flower arrangements.

“In September, one of our concepts would be ‘Fall Fantasy,’ something that emphasizes fall colors and fall flowers,” explained Bennett. “We also bring samples from our gardens and we will make a program. Sometimes we will make a fall wreath.”

One member, Meltzer said, is a flower arranging judge who reviews member submissions and offers helpful suggestions.

The club also works closely with Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to people who are unable to buy or prepare their own meals. “Twice a year, we make flower arrangements that we donate to Meals on Wheels,” Meltzer said. “People who get a Meals on Wheels delivery in November or April also get a small little flower arrangement.”

The club organizes a plant sale every May, which is a major source of funding. “We sell plants that we have dug up from our own gardens,” Meltzer said. “(People) end up paying a lot less than they would at day care, and you get free advice.”

The group emphasizes planting and growing native plants, Bennett said, because they are more supportive of native insects, pollinators and wildlife.

“Cheryl is very knowledgeable about a lot of the best practices,” Meltzer said of Bennett. “We talk about native plants, we talk about composting, we talk about leaves, we talk about how to support butterflies and pollinators.”

The club currently has 17 members and hopes to expand. In April, it had a booth at the Merrick Chamber of Commerce’s Kids Fest, a spring festival in the parking lot of Merrick Long Island Rail Road. The club helped children and families plant sunflower seeds and offered tips for spring gardens.

Thanks to community events like Kids Fest, the club became acquainted with a Girl Scout troop in Merrick. This fall, the club plans to work with the troop to plant spring bulbs as a beautification project. “That’s the kind of thing we’re interested in doing,” Bennett said.

Monthly meetings are held in Bellmore at lunchtime, and Meltzer said members of the club would love to have people who are retired or work from home join them. Anyone can attend up to two meetings as a guest, he said, before deciding whether to join. For privacy reasons, he asked those interested to write to [email protected] for the date and place of the meeting, and for more information about the club and its activities.

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