BY JANET MANDELSTAM
“It’s a fun year to be involved,” says Harriet Kulis, co-chair of the walk on June 21 and 22.
Six charter members formed the club in 1938 and set forth the mission “to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening; to aid in the protection of native trees, plants, and birds; and to encourage civic planting and beautification.”
The word “education” doesn’t appear directly in that mission statement, but that’s been the main focus of the Garden Walk and the club’s other activities all along, say current members.
Bloom’s “In Bloom” columnist Moya Andrews’ garden was featured on that first walk a quarter century ago. “It started as an educational activity, allowing people to see private gardens they wouldn’t otherwise have access to,” she says. Today more than 1,000 people take the Garden Walk, and many carry a notebook “to get ideas for their own gardens.” Andrews writes detailed descriptions of each garden “so people can check later when they wonder, ‘What was that red plant I saw?’”
Today the walk is a smooth-running event staffed by committees, but it wasn’t always that way. Linda Walsh, now an honorary member of the club, was co-chair of the first walk. “We didn’t imagine it would be so successful,” she recalls. “We didn’t think about the community loving it.”
Walsh says that she and her co-chair, the late Florence Nebergall, “did everything ourselves from designing the tickets to staffing the gardens.” From that beginning, the walk “just grew by leaps and bounds” and so did gardening in Bloomington. “There’s so much more available now,” Walsh says. “I couldn’t buy daylilies in Bloomington then; now they’re widely available all over town. And you see incredible gardens behind even tiny bungalow houses downtown.”
The Garden Walk is just one of three events celebrating the double anniversary. A show of flower arrangements with a silver theme to acknowledge the 25th year of the Garden Walk will be on view at Hilltop Garden & Nature Center, and the Monroe County History Center is hosting an exhibit of memorabilia covering the club’s 75 years.
Money raised on the walks supports school gardens, educational activities at Hilltop, and beautification projects. “Any philanthropic organization that has landscape can apply for a grant,” says Kulis, whose own garden has been featured on the walk twice. “We encourage use of noninvasive species and native plants.”
Like all long-running shows, the Garden Walk has had its little crises over the years, says Kulis. “People forget they have committed to be on the walk, or they go on trips and think the garden will be ready in time.” Mother Nature plays a role, too, she says. “There have been storms when trees have gone down, and there’s been mud.” But the show goes on every year at the time of the summer solstice.
More than 100 home gardens have been featured over the years. The walk always includes a wide variety of garden styles, sizes, and terrains. As Andrews says, “Vegetable and flower gardens, annuals and perennials, formal and informal, urban and rural … over 25 years we’ve touched all the bases.”