Garden Club a perennial delight

Past president Dorothy Noble (left) has put in more than 50 years with the Bainbridge Island Garden Club. Peggy Booth (right) is the current president of the club. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Past president Dorothy Noble (left) has put in more than 50 years with the Bainbridge Island Garden Club. Peggy Booth (right) is the current president of the club.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

Devoted to flowers and friendship for 65 years, the Bainbridge Island Garden Club members gathered at the Bloedel Reserve Monday to celebrate their anniversary.

If the club’s six-plus decades embody “continuity,” then the women seated in the drawing room of the Bloedel mansion – elegant dress blending with the formal setting – were the visual definition of “tradition.”

Seven have been in the club for 25 years, a qualification for honorary life membership. Dorothy Noble could have been awarded a life membership twice over, for her 50 years in the club.

The women reviewed, with Bloedel Reserve Director Dick Brown, the club’s long and distinguished history of beautifying Bainbridge – their mission from the first meeting held at the Rolling Bay schoolhouse on Oct. 26, 1936.

“There was no parks department back then,” BIGC board member Elizabeth Knobloch said. “The garden club was the only organization considering the island’s natural beauty and overall appearance, in those days.”

Club members decided to beautify roads and landscape public places, targeting the ferry terminal.

Then they took aim at county commissioners, pushing them to plan for garbage disposal.

They named new roads, and changed the “unsatisfactory” names of some others.

They kept good minutes through the first year, a standard that would be maintained. In decades of thorough note-taking, they have recorded both gardening lore and island history.

The first year’s minutes set the tone for later entries:

“Attention was called during the year to the slaughter of our Huckleberry and other shrubbery by Commercial pickers and dealers from the mainland.

“The first year drew to a close with many projects started for the island, much good will and a record of happy sociability.”

Other early accomplishments included plantings along Bainbridge roads and support for the formation of the Olympic National Park.

During World War II, members cultivated ivy and laurel to provide the military with camouflage; they planted victory gardens, and canned for the war effort.

BIGC campaigned against advertising signs on Highway 305.

“Some of those signs were said to have disappeared in the night,” four-time BIGC president Sylvia Zonoff said, “but that may have been just rumor.”

Projects in recent decades have included plantings around the Commodore building, the Winslow post office, the entrance to Port Madison and the senior center.

Current projects include “garden therapy” for patients in island convalescent homes, and upkeep of the public library gardens.

Today, the club continues to raise funds for local, state and national garden projects with monthly raffles and plant sales.

The club also clears litter from a stretch of the highway four times a year.

Most recently, the group gave 175 ponderosa pine seedlings to Bainbridge residents, and donated plants to Habitat for Humanity.

Despite the positive changes the club has effected on the island, BIGC gatherings have changed little in 65 years.

Meetings always feature tea, a raffle with the proceeds going to good works, and lunch.

“The really nice thing is, you see your friends and you have lunch,” Knobloch said. “Every member brings a sandwich cut in four, to share.”

Dues have not kept pace with inflation – membership is just $10 a year.

Although there are several new, young members – and current president Peggy Booth, mother Mary Beth Johnson and daughter Heathere Booth Cericola, represent three generations of one family – most members are older.

Many have served multiple terms in office.

During her half century, Noble was club president twice, serving from 1961-63, and again from 1971-72.

At 90, she is still perfectly coiffed and resolutely outspoken, sharing the club history that is for her first-hand recollection.

“When Bloedel first opened to the public, they asked garden club members to be docents,” Nobel said. “Quite a few of us volunteered and 10 years later, most were still there.

“And that’s how it is, my dear. You see, we are cultivating gardens – and we are cultivating friendships.”

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