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North Hills Monthly

Local Garden Clubs Beautify Communities, Create Lasting Bonds

Apr 30, 2019 10:42AM ● By Kathleen Ganster

It is easy to see the Garden Club of Oakmont’s work in action—their Oakmont in Bloom committee plants and maintains all of the gardens and plants along the main boulevard. 

“It is a wonderful way to use your talents and to meet other like-minded people,” said President Linda Ewing about the value of garden clubs.

Garden clubs used to be a place where folks went to be seen, nothing like what they are today, according to David Amrhein, chair of the Allegheny Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS). 

“They didn’t join to make beautiful things happen; they wanted to be seen for a social event,” he explained. 

Today’s garden clubs serve as organizations where like-minded people–typically gardeners–can gather for educational programming; the sharing of practices, seeds and plants; planting and maintaining public gardens and areas, and helping to beautify their communities.

“We have educational meetings, we work with the local school, and we have a very special Gardening with Seniors program,” Ewing said.  

Some clubs such as NARGS are a ‘specialized club’ according to Amrhein, an organization that focuses on a particular type or species of plants and gardens. Other clubs are more generalized and are often formed according to location. 

The Allegheny Chapter of NARGS has members from as far away as Erie and West Virginia, with the majority from the greater Pittsburgh area. Amrhein, a Hampton resident, said they focus on plants that grow well in rocky areas.

NARGS has designed and maintained public gardens including one outside of the National Aviary located on the North Side. A huge bonus of belonging to the club is that several times a year, members open their own gardens for other members to visit.

“These are amazing gardens that otherwise you wouldn’t get to see,” Amrhein said. 

The club also holds plant sales open to the public and hosts a seed exchange that has become international. 

“We get seeds from Russia and the Andes—really all over the world,” said Amrhein. “It is pretty remarkable what one can get in the seed exchange.”

In addition to Oakmont’s main boulevard, the Oakmont Garden Club also maintains the gardens of the Oakmont Carnegie Library and offers a scholarship to a local student. They also host an annual plant sale, which will be held this year on Saturday, May 11 from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. in Hoffstot’s parking lot. 

The Shaler Garden Club designs, plants and maintains public gardens. 

“We are a very community-conscious organization. We cosponsor several programs with the Shaler North Hills Library and host public workshops,” said club president Claudia Bernardo. They also host a horticultural therapy program at a local senior residence facility. 

The Shaler Garden Club received national recognition for their work in 2018.

“Our club was honored to be one of the nation’s first recipients of the Plant America Community Project Grant,” said Bernardo. “Our project was to renovate an overgrown hillside at the library into an educational and pollinator-friendly certified garden.” 

In addition to community service work, the club hosts educational and networking meetings, field trips and workshops such as herbal soap and seasonal wreath making. 

“We provide an opportunity to increase your social activities and to have fun. Garden clubs promote the ability to grow one’s knowledge and share in community service activities, and they foster the opportunity to make new friends and share your love of gardening,” Bernardo said. 

The Shaler Garden Club will host their 66th annual plant sale at Kiwanis Park on May 4 from 9 a.m. to noon. 

Networking is a major focus and benefit of garden clubs, according to Colleen Fingal, president of the Longvue Acres Garden Club (LAGC). 

“You get to know other local gardeners who understand the conditions in gardens like your own–you can share plants and share what works and what doesn’t,” she said. 

Members include residents from all over the North Hills, but anyone is welcome. Several of the members are Penn State Master Gardeners and like the other clubs, they host educational monthly meetings, field trips and workshops–all of which are open to the public. 

“We like to learn and share,” Fingal said of the club’s mission to stimulate knowledge and the love of gardening, horticulture and conservation. 

One of the club’s main missions is maintaining the UPMC Passavant Chapel Garden, originally designed and installed by members in 1995. “This is the most visible LAGC community service project, and it continues to delight hospital patients, visitors and employees,” said Fingal.

Longvue Acres Garden Club will host their annual plant sale on Saturday, May 18 from 9 a.m. to noon at Northmont Church. The money raised helps fund their local gardening projects. 

Amrhein added that membership fees for local garden clubs are extremely reasonable—another thing that makes them so attractive. 

Find out more about fees, programming and plant sales at the following sites:

Garden Club of Oakmont:

North American Rock Garden Society (Allegheny Chapter):

Shaler Garden Club:

Longvue Acres Garden Club: