Article and photos (unless otherwise noted) by John Lawrence
Feature photo: From Left, Clearwater Garden Club historian Laura Daniels, garden club member Lynn Posyton, and Howard Warshauer, the garden club president, attend the 2018 Florida Flower Show. Photo courtesy of the Clearwater Garden Club.
In 1950, as TV signals reached Jacksonville and Miami for the first time, a few winter residents in Clearwater decided to launch a garden club.
“It was in the post-war world that the garden club was created,” said Howard Warshauer, the club’s president.
“The typical Floridians back then lived up north in the summer and lived down here in the winter. We are one of the earlier clubs, only between five and 10 clubs in the state are older.”
The Clearwater Garden Club’s mission: to educate members and the public in the fields of gardening, horticulture, botany, landscape design, environmental awareness through the conservation of natural resources, civic beautification, and nature studies.
Great things are meant to last, so in this, the club’s 70th year – even in the shadow of Covid and a reduced schedule of activities – the Clearwater Garden Club’s popular annual plant sale is still a go. The sale is a big deal to locals who wait for the event to bypass Home Depot, Lowe’s and other big box garden centers to get a great price on their trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, herbs, and other plants.
In this season of social distancing, however, the club’s popular plant sale will be held in cyberspace.
“We will make it as easy as possible for the customer during our Virtual Plant Sale,” said Warshauer, who, along with other garden center members, launched the Clearwater Community Garden in 2014.
With face masks and six-foot distances helping reduce new Covid cases in Pinellas County and Clearwater as of this writing, Warshauer and garden club members want to help maintain the downward Covid curve while raising money for the club’s coffers.
“The garden club usually has a good fundraiser with the summer plant sale, but we didn’t want to endanger people by having them in close proximity inside the garden club,” he said.
Once the system is ready in late August, customers will be able to view and buy more than 300 plants and other items priced under $5 using debit, credit card or PayPal at www.clearwatergardenclub.com.
“We’ve tried to make this as simple as we can for everyone to safely get our beautiful plants,” Warshauer said. “We call it VPP – View-Pay-Pickup.” He and garden club members are still engineering the website so customers can click and pay for the plants they want, but the online pay system will be ready for showtime when the sale begins August 28. Customers can pick up the plants at the garden club at 405 Seminole Street in Clearwater on Saturday, September 5th, from 8 a.m. to noon. Most of the plants are locally grown, Warshauer said.
If you have visited Clearwater Community Gardens, you’re familiar with the wide range of plants that will be available during the online sale. The gardens, at 1277 Grove St. – near the intersection of N. Betty Lane and Grove Street – will be donating about 150 of the 300 plants for the garden club’s sale.
The plants will include various breeds of basil, aloe vera, cranberry hibiscus, rosemary, cilantro, chives, and other herbs and spices; tomato, pumpkin, bean, squash, cucumber, and other vegetables; royal poinciana trees, lemon trees, other ornamental trees and bushes and “a bunch of stuff that grows in the summer down here, such as cherry tomato plants.”
The community garden on North Betty Lane – which leases its 4-by-8 garden plots for $35 a year – is now one of the most successful community gardens in Pinellas County. (Journalistic disclosure: This reporter purchased a small bunch of lemon grass from the community gardens last year for 50 cents. That small bunch of grass has since grown into a large, beautiful ornamental plant on the side of his house.)
After buying what they want online, customers can print out the receipt at work or at home and bring it to the garden club where they will hand it through the vehicle window to a garden club member. That member will go inside and pull the plants listed on the receipt. Customers will then be directed to the club’s side doors where their plants will be loaded.
“When you arrive at our clubhouse, follow the signage directions to the pickup area, then give your pickup form to our greeter,” Warshauer said. “After confirmation, your purchase will then be placed in your car by our greeter.”
Proceeds from the Virtual Plant Sale will help the club, which has between 60 and 150 members, continue beautifying corners of Clearwater and educating fellow gardeners on Florida’s unique gardening challenges.
In fact, the Clearwater Garden Club’s membership in the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs means it has connections with other gardeners around the state. The FFGC, in Winter Park, is an association of 235 garden clubs founded in 1924. Clearwater is one of the oldest members in the alliance.
The Clearwater Garden Club does a lot of cool stuff:
- Education programs – Field trips to private and municipal gardens, as well as hosting expert speakers on sustainability tips, gardening techniques, water reuse, Florida-native plants, and how to naturally control pests without poisoning the environment.
- Yard of the Year – Presented twice a year, the Garden Fork Award allows a Clearwater resident to be recognized by their friends, neighbors and the community at large for their home gardening. Past winners include Donna Nagel’s home on Sedeva Street. Marion Crane, a 35-year garden club member, nominated Nagel for her “use of layered mulch and drought-resistant plants to beautify not only her yard, but the curbside edge of her property as well,” the club’s website states.
- Camp Wekiva – The residential camp for third through eighth graders in Apopka, Fla., is available to children associated with Florida Federation of Garden Clubs. Clearwater Garden Club members can nominate children to send to the camp every year and helps pay their way with scholarships. The youngsters learn about horticulture, forestry, and gardening while camping outdoors at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka.
- Blue Star Highways – The Garden Club sponsored a Blue Star Highway marker and small, landscaped park on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway decades ago. The project is “a tribute to the armed forces that have defended the United States,” as the Blue Star Highway plaque reads. The club rededicated the beautiful gardened patch on the south side of the bridge in 2017.
- Zoom Talks – Warshauer implemented a Zoom Video series, “Garden Talks” for members until Covid gets under some control and members can gather in person. “We used to have an Education Day every third Saturday, when we brought in speakers to talk on gardening subjects,” he said. “But now we rely on Zoom to hold those sessions.” The club also met on Zoom to pick garden club officers.
Like everyone else who refuses to give in to the temporary slowdown of society, Warshauer and the other Clearwater Garden Club members look toward next year for a revival. Members pay $35 individually to join and $40 for a couple.
“We are now taking a summer break as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and will begin the new season October 17th with a very special Garden Party Mingle,” Warshauer said.
See? Gardeners know the growing season always returns without fail. As another famous gardener (and poet, of course) Alexander Pope wrote in “An Essay in Man” in 1732, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
While people are still bringing in donations through Wednesday, a partial list of plants for sale is as follows:
Blue spice basil
Mother of thousands
Jack fruit tree
Photos by John Lawrence unless otherwise noted.