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Woodinville Garden Club: growing plants & friendships for 30 years

  • Written by Shannon Michael

When the Woodinville Garden Club opens its annual plant sale at 9 a.m. at Chateau Ste. Michelle on May 10, the club will bring 30 years of experience with them.

The WGC’s 50 members started working in February growing about 16,000 plants for its annual sale. On a cool spring day last week, the founder of the club, Vi Kono, along with four of the earliest members – Susan Latter, Donna Wolthuis, Ann Neel, and Carol Ager – met up at the greenhouse being used for the plant sale to talk about the club’s accomplishments.
When Kono moved to the Woodinville area in 1984, she wanted to join a garden club active in the community. She wrote up an advertisement for the Woodinville Weekly and posted a flyer on the bulletin board at Molbak’s seeking like-minded gardeners to form a new garden club. That was in June 1984, and seven soon joined to form a club.

Plant Sale WGC Early DaysOne of the club’s earliest civic projects was the planting and maintenance of the flower boxes along 175th St. Pictured are Carol Ager, left, and Georgia Schall in June 1986. Schall was the first person to respond to the advertisement and helped get the club organized and running. (Photo courtesy of Woodinville Garden Club)By the fall, the club had 13 members, and quickly escalated to 35. Because they meet in members’ homes, the club’s size was limited to 50 members. While most members are women, there have been a few men in the club through the years.

Limiting membership, the club has found, helps promote friendship between all members.

A few members are now listed as honorary members, including my own grandmother, Grace Dawson, who at 96 is no longer an active member but is honored to still be a Woodinville Garden Club member. She was one of the club’s first 50 members, and her home in The Farm was included one year in the Tour of Gardens.

Kono listed the objectives she envisioned for a great garden club. She wanted members learning horticulture, actively planting, nurturing through harvesting and nurturing ideas for civic improvement, enjoying the fruits of their labor, and sharing with others the beauty and love of gardening.

Plant Sale WGC FoundersFive of the Woodinville Garden Club’s earliest members stand inside the greenhouse filled with plants soon to be sold at the club’s annual plant sale. Standing left to right are: Susan Latter, Donna Wolthuis, Vi Kono, Carol Ager, and Ann Neel. (Photo by Shannon Michael)And in the 30 years since, it’s been the steadfast vision and guiding compass for the club.
The club’s first fundraising project was the plant sale in the spring of 1985. “Earl Dedman of the Mountain View Greenhouses took the club under his wing and gave us a place in his huge greenhouse,” Kono said. The club used the greenhouse until 2007.

For the past nine years, the club has used the 24- by almost 70-foot long greenhouse located on the Burley Estate in The Farm on Hollywood Hill to cultivate their plants. The home is for sale since owner Jerome Burley passed away. It is the last year the club can use the greenhouse unless new owners let the club continue using the facility.

“We really need a big greenhouse for next year’s plant sale,” Kono said, adding, “It would be nice to have a back-up plan in case we can’t use this one after the property sells.” Kono said the plant sale’s success has been in large part due to Dedman’s and Burley’s generosity in loaning greenhouse space.

Through the years, the plant sale has been at different locations until Kono reached out to Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery about 20 years ago.

“We are so grateful for Ste. Michelle because that has been the ideal location. There’s plenty of parking, it’s near the bike trails, and customers can go enjoy the wine,” said Neel, another of the long time members. There will be thousands of plants for sale including perennials from club members’ gardens.

“We have a great, long-standing relationship with the Woodinville Garden Club,” said winery grounds supervisor Ann Hunt. “Each year we look forward to their event on our Manor House lawn. It is typically a beautiful day and we have guests that look forward to it every year.”
While the annual plant sale in May and Tour of Gardens in July are their two best-known events, the WGC also has a longstanding commitment to giving back to the community.
“In general, the money we make goes back to the community. It does not fund club activities,” said Wolthuis, who has served as co-president four of the club’s 30 years.

City beautification projects, two donated sculptures to the city, donations for the Jerry Wilmot Park development, and college scholarships for students planning to study horticulture or the environment are just a few of the many projects funded.

Club members have also enjoyed member-funded field trips to gardens nearby and as far away as England and France. They’ve brought in gardening mentors as speakers including Ciscoe Morris and Ed Hume, too.

The women gathered in the greenhouse also credited the club’s success to husbands who’ve helped with projects. Some of those men will be helping customers carry plants to their cars at the plant sale.

When asked which members have had a lasting impact on the club, Kono was hesitant to single out any one member because every member is an active participant. But, she had to acknowledge a few.

Georgia Schall was the first person to respond to the ads, and she helped Kono get the club up and running. Gloria Kraft was very instrumental in the greenhouse project for over 25 years.

Sandra Booren has co-chaired the greenhouse project, a huge time commitment, for seven years, the most years any member has chaired or co-chaired the project. Lisa Brennan and Jody Orbits have been mainstays in organizing the annual Tour of Gardens. “If they’re not chairing it, they still play a huge role in it,” Kono said.

Ager added one more member, Lisa Okerman, who created the entire organizational structure for the Tour of Gardens that the club has not deviated from for 14 years. She also chaired the first tour, said Ager, who was club president at the time.

The women also made it clear that Kono’s leadership and energy is what’s kept the club vibrant and strong for 30 years.

“There have been times when the club got tired. There were times when we didn’t know if we were going to have a greenhouse available to grow plants for the plant sale. There were times when we couldn’t find gardens that would meet the club’s high standards of quality for the Tour of Gardens. Driving all of us to not give up was Vi Kono. She constantly injects her energy into 49 other women and men. She is the backbone of the club,” Neel said.

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