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Sherri Richards, Published May 22 2013

Deep Roots: Fargo Garden Society marks 90 years in community

If you go

What: Fargo Garden Society plant sale

When: 1 p.m. June 1. Preview begins at 12:30 p.m. Live auction at about 1:30 p.m.

Where: Elim Care parking lot, 3534 University Dr. S., Fargo

Contact: (701) 282-9609 or fargogardensociety@yahoo.com

Online: www.fargogardensociety.org

Info: The Fargo Garden Society meets at 7 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of each month at Elim Care Center. Annual dues are $15 per individual and $25 family.

FARGO - When Linda Bellemare joined the Fargo Garden Society in 1975, some ladies still wore white gloves to its meetings.

It was a society founded by suit-wearing businessmen in 1923. The group’s early iris and peony shows included beauty contests for the Iris Queen and Peony Princess.

It was a more formal time, current members note. Now, you’ll most likely find members sporting gardening gloves.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Fargo Garden Society, an affiliate of National Garden Clubs Inc.

While the society has adapted to modern times, its original focus on beautification and service remain, members say.

The society hosts the annual flower show at the Red River Valley Fair. This year, judging is July 8.

Members plant and maintain flower gardens at Fargo’s Ronald McDonald Houses, and will work with Habitat for Humanity homeowners to create flower beds at their new homes.

The group grants scholarships to local horticulture students, and holds a yearly plant sale, scheduled for June 1.

They’ve brought national projects to Fargo, such as growing native flowers at a now-defunct rest area and “Plant It Pink” for breast cancer awareness.

In the 1930s and ’40s, society members collected lilacs, assembled bouquets, and with the help of Boy Scouts, delivered them to “sick, blind and crippled folks who love flowers but rarely have them,” according to a 1941 Forum article that described Share-Your-Lilacs Day.

Some past projects are still visible today, such as the soon-to-be-retired butterfly garden at the Red River Zoo and a Blue Star Memorial at the F-M Visitors Center in southwest Fargo. Another Blue Star Memorial is in the works for Casselton, N.D.

And for further visibility, members will post yard signs commemorating National Gardening Week, the first full week of June.

One Tuesday a month, the society meets at Elim Care Center on south University, another location where members lend their green thumbs.

Monthly programs discuss a variety of gardening topics, such as community gardens, greenhouses, landscape ideas and new flower species. Each year, the 40-plus members tour gardens and exchange plants. It’s a generous group, members say.

Nancy McKinnon of West Fargo started with a few succulents. Now a dozen containers fill her home and decorate the front, and she often shares succulent plants with other members.

“I can’t imagine life without growing things,” McKinnon says.

Some people join the group for a few years to learn about gardening, and move on. “People come looking for ideas and help,” says member Pat Westgard.

Others, like Westgard and Bellemare, have been part of the Fargo Garden Society for decades.

Bellemare was recruited after taking part in a flower show. She stayed for the learning experiences and opportunity to meet more gardeners.

Terry Kroke was looking for a garden club that provided community outreach. She’s now director of the eight-state Rocky Mountain Region Garden Clubs. North Dakota plays host to a regional gathering every eight years. Fargo is one of six federated garden clubs in the state.

Members often become de facto gardening experts in whatever social circle they belong. Many maintain their own church’s flower beds, says Les Westgard, Pat’s husband. Both Pat and Les serve on the National Garden Clubs board, along with Kroke and Bellemare.

Recent efforts have focused on sustainability, another adaptation to current times by a 90-year-old club.

Because while times may change and white gloves go out of fashion, gardening remains.

“It’s good for the soul,” Kroke says. “It’s good for the Earth.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556