CLARION — Formed in 1996 by a small group of women who collectively sought to promote gardening, educate members, and beautify area communities, the Wildflower Garden Club (WGC) is now comprised of approximately 28 members, representing locales throughout Clarion County, who continue to actively pursue its original mission.

Judy Miller, WGC president, began gardening with her mother during childhood, tending vegetables and growing flowers. “I guess really what we do, we want people to learn more about gardening. So there’s an educational aspect. And that includes all ages. We basically believe anyone can garden,” she said about the garden club.

Many of the club’s educational endeavors are aimed at exposing children to gardening. Miller pointed to two projects in particular, the Little Sprouts program at North Clarion Elementary School and establishing a youth gardening initiative at the new Clarion YMCA’s Children’s Education Center.

Coordinated by club member Rosie Lawrence, the Little Sprouts program teaches children in grades 4-6 about horticulture through gardening-related crafts, guest speakers, and giving them the opportunity to assist with the school garden. “That’s been very successful at North Clarion Elementary. And it’s won awards at the state level for what we do there. It’s such a treat to see children when it comes to doing things,” Miller said.

In January 2019 the club was awarded a $1,000 Plant America grant from the National Garden Clubs to fund a community project that promoted gardening. Co-authored by Miller and fellow club member Betty McKisson, the grant was put toward covering the cost for the construction of raised garden beds that were installed at the YMCA. A true community collaboration, the beds were built for the cost of materials by two carpentry students under the supervision of industrial arts teacher Dan Emings at the Clarion County Career Center.

“We’re very fortunate. We have three garden trugs (the raised beds) for what it might have cost to buy a little more than one. It really saved us a lot of money. Plus we met two really wonderful young men who built them,” Miller said.

“We are hoping this will be the beginning of teachers there (at the YMCA) being able to teach things about nutrition and vegetables and flowers, herbs, and pollinators. All the good things that go with gardening.”

To further promote gardening the WGC will be hosting its first Garden Tour of Clarion, with proceeds from the Saturday, August 10, event going to the Clarion County YMCA’s Children’s Garden Program and Plantings. The mainly walking tour will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will feature stops at 10 gardens in the Clarion community, including Miller’s, as well as a box lunch.

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Suzanne Hartwig, the club member organizing the event, said, “I’ve seen it done in other communities. I went to tours up at Chautauqua Lake and other places. And they’re just always a nice outing. I think that it’s a fun day for people and it kind of gives them inspiration and getting involved in gardening and maybe doing some things on their own properties.

“I think there’d be a lot of inspiration for gardening and trying new methods of gardening because we have such a variety (on the tour), you know, raised beds, we have people that have perennials and wildflowers, we even have a lady who filled in a swimming pool and made it into like a water garden. We just have a nice variety of different styles of gardening. Each place is unique.”

Registration is $20 and can be completed by contacting Hartwig (814-229-3116) or Miller (814-226-4996). To ensure a box lunch interested individuals should register no later than Aug. 6.

In addition to the educational and promotional components of its mission, the WGC also takes gardening beautification responsibilities for the Cook Forest Sawmill Center of the Arts gardens and the Farmington Park Blue Star Memorial garden. WGC members also perform highway clean-up twice a year along a two-mile stretch of Miola Road.

Central to all the WGC’s activities is its monthly meetings, which usually feature a short horticulture lesson for those in attendance and frequently a guest speaker. Topics this past year have included processing and creating dried flower pictures, creating and using compost, organic gardening, and how to attract bees and butterflies to your garden.

“We have some really interesting meetings. We try to use local resources as much as possible and invite people in. This year though we’re making two, we call them field trips. But we have good programs. We have ideas already for next year,” Miller said.

Meetings are held at 6 p.m. at the Tylersburg United Methodist Church on the second Tuesday of each month from February through November. New members are welcome.

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