ELMHURST – Established in 1926, the Elmhurst Garden Club has grown from a ladies club to a group that supports more than just its members.
"I think we do good work partly because of this garden walk we have," said Garden Walk Chairman Donna Fredrickson.
Since the club's annual Garden Walk began in 1995, members have raised more than $190,000, which they have donated to scholarship funds, the Elmhurst Park District, Elmhurst Public Library and most recently to the sensory garden project at Madison Early Childhood Center among other groups.
"An emphasis of our club is on education," said Elmhurst Garden Club President Norma Farrell.
The club established the Mildred Hartney College Scholarship Fund to distribute scholarships to Illinois residents who are college juniors, seniors or graduate students studying horticulture, environmental studies, botany or related sciences. All proceeds from the garden walk benefit scholarships or other community groups. This year the club has donated about $8,000 to scholarships, but club members also educate each other.
"There's always something new to learn in gardening," said Fredrickson. "You never know everything."
Nearly 100 club members meet every month September through April at Wilder Mansion for business meetings, but they also always include educational programming on everything from floral design to conservation. While some members are life-long gardeners, novice growers are always welcome.
"We have people who have done very little gardening that come just to learn," said Farrell.
The garden walk aims to foster the exchange of ideas. Participants received a map of the seven gardens featured on the walk and toured them at their leisure. Every year, Fredrickson said she collects new ideas for her own garden.
"Every year I try at least one new plant," said Fredrickson.
Elmhurst resident, Rose Wilkes, named after her green-thumbed grandmother, follows a couple generations of gardeners. Although she is no longer a current member of the Elmhurst Garden Club, she still has plants growing in her garden that she received from other members. She loves the community feeling of sharing plants. She even has some peonies from her grandmother's garden.
"I just love to share it with people," said Wilkes of the garden she spends hours tending.
This year's walk was the second time Wilkes' garden was featured. The seasoned gardener has been perfecting her property for 26 years with colorful flowers and vegetable plants.
"There's very little space for grass in my yard," she said.
In addition to the featured gardens, walkers were invited to a fair in Wilder Park where more than 40 vendors sold live plants, jewelry, garden art and other crafts. For the second year in a row the Elmhurst Park District worked with the garden club to provide a light lunch inside Wilder Mansion where visitors can view a garden-inspired exhibit. This year it's titled "Botanicals."
"It just seemed like an opportunity for us to have some of our local artists showcased," said Farrell.
The stars of the show, said Fredrickson, are still the carefully selected gardens. A selection committee is already scouting gardens for next year, which may or may not belong to club members. While some landscaper gardens were chosen this year, the club always likes to highlight gardens created by residents.
"I think people take a lot of pride in their gardens in Elmhurst," said Fredrickson.