A question about the town motto sparks an organization, beautification and community involvement
By SUSAN WILLIAMSON
[singlepic id=50 w=370 h=290 float=left]A little over four years ago, my husband and I found our retirement nest: 10 acres with a creek, pastures and blueberry bushes in Rural Hall, North Carolina. After settling in, we noticed that the local welcome signs proclaimed Rural Hall as “The Garden Spot of the World.” Unfortunately, the sad flowers struggling in clay underneath the signs were enough to give anyone pause about the motto.
We raised our children with the help of a garden, managing to freeze and can in spite of full-time jobs. As we moved into semiretirement, we looked forward to gardening again. Our local library has frequent programs on gardening topics, which we’ve gladly attended. My husband, Wallace, shared his ideas. “If we are the ‘Garden Spot of the World’,” he asked, “why not start a club to make it so?”
A handful of people agreed to take part. We set a date for a meeting, and the Garden Spot of the World Club was born.
The club’s first priority was the welcome signs. Gardeners split into three groups, each tackling a sign. The City of Rural Hall was willing to help, but we needed a fundraiser to buy plants and fertilizer for the new landscaping.
When we found out the local historical society was having a community-wide yard sale, the club joined in. Being gardeners, we decided to sell seeds and plants. Members dug up and potted plants they were willing to share from their homes and gardens.
Some members were skeptical that people would take an interest in gardening. One member wondered aloud, “What if we don’t raise enough money to cover the $20 booth rental?”
Wallace volunteered to be good for it. He’s a people person, and he couldn’t let $20 get in the way of a great idea.
[singlepic id=51 w=370 h=290 float=right]The plant sale turned out to be a big success. Young couples found shrubs for their bare clay yards, while a father and son picked out vegetable plants and seeds for the little boy’s first garden. The elementary school art teacher filled his car with daylilies. Garden club members were thrilled to have a chance at Anna Laurie’s beautiful foxgloves and Freda’s peonies. Members put together information with pictures and growing advice for many of the plants. One member’s granddaughter got in the action with her booth of lemonade and cookies.
After the sale, Tom Ray, the club’s treasurer and a retired accountant, counted over $1,000. This total was aided by Tom’s gambit of “Why don’t we round your $8.50 off to an even $10? It’s for a good cause.”
Growth beyond the garden
Since then, the club has grown along with the flowers, plants and vegetables raised in local yards. Gardening has brought people together and created a sense of purpose. Take the case of the Martins and the Vernons. Though they lived in the same town, the couples hadn’t seen in each other since high school. Involvement in the garden club helped reunite them. Freda, who is recently widowed, was at loose ends until the garden club formed. Now she is active in every project, frequently bringing her delicious pound cake to club gatherings.
Even the local school has gotten involved. We asked students at Rural Hall Elementary to participate in a contest to design the club’s logo. The winner’s drawing graces our T-shirts.
Also in the spirit of competition is the club’s designated “Yard of the Month.” The local newspaper features pictures of winning gardens.
Our motto is “We Dig the Earth.” Our beautification efforts are clearly visible, but even more noticeable is the ripple effect. Homes and businesses throughout the community are adding window boxes, hanging baskets and other touches.
We’ve worked to educate people about everything from proper pruning to food preservation. Several club members have been inspired to enroll in the master gardener program offered through the Cooperative Extension Service.
This year we’ve started a community garden for those who don’t have a suitable garden area. Rollin Green, a club member, donated his garden because he had hip surgery and won’t be able to garden this year. Several people have already volunteered to help by donating seeds, fertilizer and expertise to first-time gardeners.
[singlepic id=52 w=240 h=160 float=right]The plant sales continue every fall and spring. Each one tops the last. With the proceeds, we’ve added flowers to the post office and community park. This spring we put up large hanging baskets at the intersection of Highway 65 and Highway 66. We’re now in the process of landscaping the library sign.
Although we are beautifying Rural Hall, our true legacy is that we’re building community, plant by plant, flower by flower.
Susan Williamson is an avid gardener, horse person and part-time biology teacher. She spent four years as the editor of The Herald-News in Edmonton, Kentucky.