About 90 years ago – well, 91 to be exact – a group of 10 women from Glenwood Springs came together with a passion for plants, trees, birds and community.
They formed the Glenwood Springs Garden Club and began planting seeds all over the area – some of which sprout into the trees that now shade Grand Avenue. And others who continue to nurture a vibrant community of gardeners, green fingers, and greenskeepers.
“Last year we didn’t celebrate our 90th anniversary,” said Ann English, a retired schoolteacher and former Garden Club president. “That’s why we gave it our all this year with the 90 plus one celebration.”
On June 9, club members donned 1930’s costumes and held a formal garden tea party to recognize the achievements of the first 10 gardeners and the many who have since joined the club’s ranks.
While the tea was more for members than the general public, English said the club is hosting an event open to the entire community on Saturday.
The Welcome To Our Gardens Tour is an opportunity to step into club members’ backyards and explore the verdant landscapes that members have been tilling all spring.
“The reason we’re calling it Welcome To Our Gardens is because it’s really an opportunity to explore,” English explained. “It’s not a guided tour. It’s a day to browse at your leisure.”
Each house on the tour will be marked with an eclectically painted bicycle sporting a handlebar basket full of flowers, she said. This year’s garden tour is dedicated to Howard Raley, an extraordinary gardener whose expertise in xeriscaping is unparalleled, English added.
Officially, the Garden Club’s mission is to “promote the knowledge and love of gardening, help protect mature trees, plants and birds, and encourage planting by citizens,” said Katie Rubel, another past president of the club.
Informally, however, it’s a group of people who share a common interest and like to talk about it, Rubel added.
“I grow vegetables and when I retired I had a neighbor who encouraged me to join the club,” recalls Rubel. “I said, ‘I grow vegetables. I don’t know anything about flowers.’ My neighbor said, ‘You’ll learn.’ And I did.”
Rubel’s cheeks flushed as she chuckled softly at the memory of Wednesday. Beside her, Garden Club secretary Judy O’Donnell sipped on iced tea and shaded her eyes from the midday sun.
Potted purple petunias danced across O’Donnell’s patio in a gentle breeze as English joined the pair with a scrapbook full of articles about the club.
“We have pieces that go back to 1931,” English boasted. “Although the originals of these items are preserved in the Frontier Museum of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society.”
The museum and the association share a strong bond. O’Donnell maintains a small garden in front of the museum, and English said the club planted an herb garden at the back, which is now tended by other gardeners.
“It happens often,” she explains. “We plant gardens all over the city and we take care of them for a while, but usually someone else takes the line and we move on to the next garden.”
The club established a healing garden at Valley View Hospital, but it was removed during a renovation. They built the Glenwood Springs Recreation Center community garden, the Frontier Museum gardens and a garden at the Historic Cardiff Schoolhouse, English said.
A long time ago, the club planted a tree on Grand Avenue that now serves as the city’s Christmas tree, she added. In 2018, the club raised $2,000 for a Glenwood Springs Elementary School greenhouse project. And in 2006, the club won big at Strawberry Days with their Streakin’ Through the Garden float.
“The girls wore swimsuits under these big raincoats during the parade,” English said, flipping through photos in the club’s scrapbook. “It was quite an affair. You won the Grand Marshall Prize.”
Through their efforts, the club helped beautify the city, but more than the vegetation, it gave people a place to put down roots.
“Violet Mooney is one of our oldest members, now in her 90s, and she’s our resident philosopher,” English said, describing Mooney’s tendency to quote poems and verses from memory at club meetings.
Another longtime member, 91-year-old Grace Schick, told English she loves being part of the club because it’s more than just a chat, it’s an opportunity to learn something new with every meeting.
“Can you imagine that?” asked English. “I look forward to learning something new after 90 years on this earth. This is amazing and inspiring.”
Joining the club, growing for the community, and being a part of the city’s history can give members a sense of home and belonging, she said.
“What we’re doing could be happening behind the scenes,” English said. “But it adds to the ambiance of the city and the community as a whole.”