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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

The Garden Club of Dayton Celebrates Its Centennial

2022 Garden Gems Poster
Garden Club of Dayton

The Garden Club of Dayton is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and this Saturday, they’re hosting a garden tour. The club also has community projects going on across the city to celebrate their centennial. WYSO’s Jason Reynolds stopped to smell the roses… and peonies and irises and dahlias. Sara Woodhull works for WYSO.

SARA WOODHULL: Let’s start in the front.

JASON REYNOLDS: It’s a sunny spring day, and Sara Woodhull is giving me a tour of her garden.

WOODHULL: Those irises are from my brother in law in Portland, Oregon, and they're a beautiful, wild, bright yellow. He sent them to me one winter, and I said, “you know, it freezes here.” I didn't have any place to put them. So, I buried them under a pile of dirt. In the spring, they sprouted.

REYNOLDS: In addition to the flowers from her brother, she has flowers from her mother’s garden, her great aunt’s garden, from friends and from members of the Garden Club of Dayton. Woodhulll is the incoming president of the club. She says gardening is in her blood, though she didn’t take a liking to it at first.

WOODHULL: Well, my mother had a fabulous garden. It was over an acre and included great big vegetable gardens. And as children, we had to help with the vegetable garden. I just couldn't stand it, and I remembered thinking and telling her that I was never going to garden ever in my life because it was terrible. Well, oops!

REYNOLDS: And now you have these fabulous gardens you've been tending to for 15, 16 years?

WOODHULL: 15 years. Yes, and I'm changing my garden to a lot of native plants instead of bringing in exotic plants. So, plants that are native to Ohio.

REYNOLDS: Why is that important to you?

WOODHULL: It's important because we're feeding pollinators, bees, butterflies—the monarch butterflies. Hummingbirds love mostly native plants. So, I have a small prairie out that we passed, and I have milkweed growing in there, which is the food for monarchs. So, it’s really fun.

Flowers in Motion
Jason Reynolds
Sara Woodhull says motion, the way flowers move in a breeze for example, is an important aspect of gardening.

REYNOLDS: Woodhull is not alone in her desire to make the Miami Valley a better place—and a stronger community—through gardening. Susan Sauer, the chair of the garden history and design committee, told us a little bit about how the club got started, 100 years ago.

SAUER: Katharine Houk Talbott was the main person who decided we needed a garden club and began to enlist her friends to join. And she was quite the interesting person. She had nine children and still managed to sing opera and seemed to be involved in everything in Dayton.

REYNOLDS: And for 100 years, the club has kept track of the Gem City’s best gardens.

SAUER: Gardens are ephemeral, and so and they change. Every decade, there are new things that are going on in gardens. And so we've documented some of the really special gardens in our area for the Archive of American Gardens at the Smithsonian Institute. So, we've been working on that. We are working on a garden currently, documenting them with maps and plant lists and pictures. Then they all go to the Smithsonian when we're done.

REYNOLDS: The Garden Club of Dayton has partners across the Miami Valley, too. They grow trees for the City of Dayton. They've had garden programs in schools, and they’re working on a riverfront project with Five River Metroparks for their centennial project. They’re even having a Dahlia named after the club.

And, of course, there’s this Saturday’s garden tour. It’s called The Garden Gems, and it will take place rain or shine. Nora Newsock is in charge of the tour. She says she’s excited that the majority of gardens on this year’s tour aren’t owned by garden club members.

NEWSOCK: We like that we've been able to expand our gardens and our homeowners and different parts of the community and different kinds of gardens. One garden, the owner owns a restaurant in downtown Dayton. He grows his own herbs and his flowers that go into the restaurant. I mean, we have a really wonderful, diverse group of gardeners and different types of gardens that we want the community to share.

You can learn more about the Garden Club of Dayton—and get tickets to this weekend’s tour—at www.gardenclubofdayton.org 

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Garden Club of Dayton
Jason Reynolds
Sara Woodhull, Susan Sauer, and Nora Newsock of the Garden Club of Dayton.