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Flower Power: U & I members' green thumbs garner state garden club award

ROUND LAKE -- Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

Amazingly, there are no Marys in the U & I Garden Club -- a Marilyn and a Marlis, but no Mary -- but it's to be assumed that all the members' gardens grow quite well.

After all, the club has been in existence for more than 50 years, so its members -- although no charter members remain -- have been disseminating gardening tips, techniques, skills and expertise throughout the area for half a century. The club was recently recognized by the Minnesota State Horticultural Society as its Garden Club of the Year.

Becky DeJong of Round Lake is currently the club's president. Last year, when she was just president elect, she happened upon the application for the club award while scanning the MSHS Web site.

"I'm also the correspondence director, and I'm supposed to keep track of their Web site and see what's new," she explained. "It was one of the things listed there. We've applied for awards of merit for individuals in the club and any other awards that they may qualify for, but this one was for the club, and I'd never seen it before."

Intrigued, DeJong broached her fellow club members about applying for the award.

"You know how it is, when you offer a suggestion, it's 'Sure, why don't you do that, Becky,'" she recalled with a laugh. "I think it was due Nov. 1, and in January, we heard that we'd won it."

According to the MSHS, the Garden Club of the Year Award is "given annually to a garden club of MSHS that demonstrates a leadership role in their community by improving public gardens, educating children and mentoring other gardeners. It demonstrates a leadership role in MSHS by supporting community among and between garden clubs, districts and MSHS. It also supports the mission of MSHS by communicating its volunteer efforts to MSHS. This garden club shares information with MSHS and other garden clubs, it supports the Garden Club and District Committee initiatives and actions and it values the partnership of garden clubs, districts and MSHS."

To apply for the award, DeJong had to fill out the MSHS State Award Nomination Form, include images or photographs and submit a one-page typed summary of the club's background and projects as well as two letters of support for the nomination. In the summary, DeJong details how the U & I Garden Club supports the MSHS and the various community service projects in which the group participates.

Those projects include planting and maintaining flower beds in the Round Lake City Park and at the Halter Manor Apartments.

"This Friday (yesterday), we're doing graduation bouquets," added DeJong to the roster of club efforts. "We've done that since 1984. One of our members, Marlis Ling, her daughter was graduating, and the class didn't have any money to buy flowers. It's become a yearly thing. We pick our flowers and hope and pray that there will be some lilacs, because they're always good filler. We usually do four of them. It all depends on how many flowers we have, but in the last few years, it's been at least four. We tell the kids that we know of that are graduating to take them home and enjoy the bouquets at their party."

The club has also been charged with responsibility for the Hurley Oak tree -- a Round Lake area historical site.

"The Hurley Oak has been a historical tree for Round Lake since the 1800s," DeJong explained. "It used to be a landmark -- you were so many miles from that big tree. It was a high point, you could see it for miles, on the east side of Round Lake. Between the Jackson County park system and the historical society, they've put up one of those redwood signs that tells about it. At one point, the state historical society was having a heritage tree program, and the club had written up stuff on it -- they measured it and took a guess at how old it was. It's a burr oak, and this marker was placed in tribute to the early settlers. It was estimated at that time to be 325 years old, and that was 30-some years ago. It was named for E.W. Hurley, who requested that it be protected and preserved, and it's cared for by the U & I Garden Club. Now, it's in the campground. ... We're just happy it's still there."

While the garden club offers its members many volunteer opportunities, that's not the sole purpose of the organization. The members gather monthly -- year round -- to share their gardening tips, expertise, successes and failures. Members prepare a lesson for those monthly meetings on a variety of garden topics.

"We also take three tours a year, in spring, summer and winter," DeJong said. "A lot of times, it's to someplace we've heard of in the area. We've made it down to Swea City, Iowa, or to Sioux Falls. We'll go visit some of the nurseries."

All the members try to pitch in on the community plantings, sharing from their own stock of perennials whenever possible as well as toiling in the soil. They also divide their perennials and grow plants from seed for the club's annual plant sale, which is always scheduled in conjunction with Round Lake's Sun and Fun festival, coming up on June 10.

Some members have a preference for flower gardening, for vegetable gardening or just like gardening in general. DeJong has a penchant for growing vegetables.

"We've been doing sweet potatoes," she said. "I have some humongous ones. It's been quite a struggle, because the deer love to eat them. They're in the morning glory family. The first year we planted them, my husband walked outside, and the deer had eaten every leaf off the vines."

The DeJongs have now rigged up a system using circular corn cribs, cut in half, to protect the sweet potato plants from the ravaging deer.

Another member, Shirley Wiese, has been a member of U & I since 1971, when she was asked to join by a neighbor. She likes all sorts of gardening and has taken on a small community service project of her own, planting some areas at the Loon Lake Golf Course, which is close to her home.

"I just like to be out digging in the dirt, whether it's vegetables or flowers," Wiese said. "We've got a very nice, fun group, and they're very knowledgeable. It's just fun being together with them."

And that's really the point of U & I Garden Club -- fellowship. The name of the club speaks for itself.

"It's just a cute way of saying You and I," said DeJong.

The members appreciate the recognition from the MSHS, but their true rewards come from the friendships that have formed and the services they perform for their community.

"The U & I Garden Club has been a close-knit group of women who work well together and enjoy time in their gardens," the club's nomination for the MSHS award stated. "We learn from each other and offer encouragement to those in our community who have an interest in gardening. Our projects have been much appreciated by those who live in Round Lake and those that visit."

On the Net:

The Minnesota State Horticultural Society:

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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