Go local from the ground up

Gardeners rejoice! Plant sale season is finally here! Never mind that most plants seem to be about two weeks behind schedule this year; the pent-up itch to dig a hole and stick something into the soil is palpable.

Whether or not Mother Nature is ready for us, local garden club plant sales on Mother's Day weekend are part of our New England charm and pragmatism. Some have evolved into town social events, an excuse to mingle as much as to shop.

While every town's sale takes on the personality of the club and community, these sales were the original locavore's paradise before the word was invented. Most sales are a mix of perennials, ground covers, shrubs and small trees propagated out of member's gardens and annuals, perennials and vegetable transplants sourced from independent greenhouses in the area.

Of course, local garden club members are on the front lines of deer defense, so browse the member plants section to see what's recommended as deer "tolerant," or plants less likely to be eaten first. Their plants also have been living through our climate swings, so any perennial that survived this past winter must be cold tolerant.

Savvy garden clubs have realized that as more Americans attempt to grow their own vegetables, there's a growing market for home-started seedlings, especially of heirloom and exotic vegetables and herbs. So, enjoy poking around and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Here's a sampling of what's going on this weekend in the region:

Early birds can hit the East Lyme Garden Club's sale, from 8 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 10, at the Town Pavilion behind the East Lyme Town Hall on Pennsylvania Ave. in Niantic. The club has named the three scholarships that it awards to East Lyme High School students in honor of member Carl Ziegler, who was instrumental in establishing the scholarships and annually donated many trees and shrubs from his own yards. Ziegler passed away last summer, and his family has continued the tradition of letting members propagate plants for the sale from his gardens. Also look for annuals and hanging baskets. This is the club's 58th sale.

Celebrating its 75th year as a garden club, North Stonington Garden Club's annual plant and seedling sale is a celebrated town event, and in past years it has offered the most impressive collection of heirloom tomato plants nurtured from seed by members. The sale runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the North Stonington Elementary School, 311 Norwich Westerly Road. Stop by the "Ask a Master Gardener" Booth staffed by both Rhode Island and Connecticut master gardeners.

Proceeds from the sale have supported area causes including grants to Hewitt Farm trails and community gardens; Wheeler Library and Ashaway Free Library; Coogan Farm; West Vine Street School and Riverside Children's Center; the Avalonia Land Conservancy, Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center and Friends of Harkness; and F.R.E.S.H. New London.

Hedging its weather bets, the Duck River Garden Club's annual sale straddles two days, Friday from noon to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at its traditional location on the field in front of the Old Lyme Shopping Center on Halls Road. Annuals, vegetables, herbs and hanging baskets, plus check out the members' plants and browse "the shed" for extra pots, vases and what-not. Younger children can pot up a plant for mom at the free Kids Corner with the help of Lyme-Old Lyme Girl Scouts.

Old Saybrook Garden Club's sale, also on Friday, runs from 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the town green next to The Kate theater. This sale boasts a new selection of ornamental grasses, perennials for sun, shade and deer resistance, plus herbs, heirloom tomatoes, hanging baskets and annuals.

The Essex Garden Club's May Market on Saturday (from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) has been the harbinger of spring in Essex for 60 years. Held in the Town Park, it features annual plants, herbs, the club's famous garlic salt, gently used home and garden treasures, jewelry, worms for composting, nurtured members' plants, a cafe for lunch and a silent auction.

If you don't get enough of the sales this weekend, the Trillium Garden Club's sale is Saturday, May 17, from 9 a.m. to noon on the Children's Patio at the Groton Public Library, 52 Newtown Road, Groton.

Want to learn more about what to plant this year? Listen to Suzanne's radio show, "CT Outdoors," with guest Gail Reynolds, Middlesex Master Gardener coordinator, from 12:30 to 1 p.m. today on WLIS 1420AM/Old Saybrook and WMRD 1150AM/Middletown and www.wliswmrd.net.

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