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Garden clubs pressing on as pandemic derails spring programs

April showers may bring May flowers, but those blooms will have to stay put as community plant sales, run by the region's garden clubs, are put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The sales, which often serve as the primary fundraiser for garden clubs, give residents an opportunity to purchase locally sourced annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs. Clubs, though, have been forced to cancel the sales to abide by social distancing guidelines.

"Usually when we get ready to open at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, there'd be lines of people waiting to get in," said Linda Burk, president of the Ledyard Garden Club, "so there's no way we'd be able to maintain any kind of social distancing in the church hall we use."

She said the cancellation of the plant sale may impact the club's ability to fund other projects it supports, including a scholarship for the high school, donations to partner organizations, and the garden spaces it maintains through town. One of those spaces, the HOPE Garden in Gales Ferry, is a vegetable garden that grows produce for the Ledyard Food Pantry.

"Our ability to buy plants for those gardens will be impacted," she said. "We're going to have to think about next year with a limited budget what we can and can't do."

The Mystic Garden Club's annual sale is held in conjunction with the spring fair hosted by the Friends of the Mystic & Noank Library, which has also been canceled. Club President Joanne Lukaszewicz said members had already subdivided their plants to sell, so they're hoping to host a smaller-scale sale in some fashion later in the year.

The club also canceled its meetings for the time being as well as its monthly garden therapy program at Mystic Healthcare and Rehabilitation, in which members provide flowers and greens from their gardens for residents to make arrangements for their rooms.

"It's really too bad, too," she said. "It's nice. We socialize with the residents and help them with their flower arrangements."

Many clubs haven't met in their formal capacity since February or March, and they've had to cancel their monthly meetings for the foreseeable future. Fay Wilkman, president of the Duck River Garden Club in Old Lyme, said she's had to cancel spring programs on flower arrangements and local garden centers.

"Most of the programs have something to do with our own gardens," she said, noting that nonmembers often attend the meetings as well. "We try to helpful, we try to be informative and we try to be fun."

Wilkman said the club is also missing doing its displays at the Old Lyme-Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library, which they haven't been able to do since the fall when the library started renovation work.

Several club presidents interviewed said garden club members tend to be older and therefore more at risk during the pandemic, making it even more important to follow social distancing guidelines. Since they can't meet in person like they normally do, and the normally scheduled garden tours and other trips are up in the air, they're getting creative about staying in touch.

Many clubs are sharing their progress with each other via Zoom or newsletters. MaryAnn Buckley, president of the North Stonington Garden Club, said she sends out a biweekly newsletter with pictures from member gardens and gardening tips. She said members are also sharing ideas for other things to do that are social distancing-friendly such as hiking any of the town's 26 trails.

"We're looking at publishing a North Stonington Garden Club cookbook," she said. "That was pitched last year in May, and we really didn't do much on it, but now that's a nice activity we can do while everybody is quarantined."

Plots around each town still have to be maintained, though. Some, like the planter boxes in downtown Mystic, are solo projects adopted by individual members. Others, like the Village Green in North Stonington and the McCurdy Road triangle in Old Lyme, are large enough for small groups of people to work on together while still 6 feet apart.

Buckley said garden club members and gardeners in general are lucky to have a hobby that gets them outside. Since many are at home more, they can take the opportunity to immerse themselves in their space or to branch out into new areas of interest such as native plantings or a pollinator garden.

"It makes us think out of the box," she said.

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