This essay by Janet Favorite originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Northern Gardener.
I am a lifelong, self-educated gardener and my internal motto has always been “create beauty wherever you go.” That motto prompted me to join Cherokee Heights Garden Club several years ago. Gardening with friends has enriched my own gardening life and my connections to our community.
Like many garden clubs in Minnesota, Cherokee Heights was founded in the 1930s—1934 to be exact—with the help of MSHS. It started with 30 St. Paul neighbors who wanted to share their love of gardening, educate themselves about gardening and use their talents to create beauty in the community. Today, the club has members from Mendota Heights, South St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights as well as St. Paul, and some of our members are children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren of the club’s founders.
Current members reminisce about their mothers’ dressing up in high heels and white gloves for garden club meetings. We maintain a more casual dress code, although we do “clean up nicely” for our traditional Christmas lunch.
We may be best known for the public garden the club created in 1984 on the south side of the High Bridge that connects our neighborhoods with downtown St. Paul. The club tapped local businesses and government for resources to build the garden more than 30 years ago. We continue to maintain this garden with its spectacular panoramic view of downtown St. Paul. Currently, members’ dues pay for the maintenance—and most of us spend time working in the garden, planting or putting it to bed. As with many gardening groups, we have an aging membership. We sometimes have to hire help for the more physical tasks of our garden. The city of St. Paul allows us access to water for our hoses, but some members remember toting water from across the street. A generous neighbor eventually allowed us to connect a hose!
Being in a garden club means working together and taking responsibility. Our members share the tasks of watering, weeding and trimming our garden during the summer months. We rotate other responsibilities every three years. This year, I volunteered to coordinate the group tours our club enjoys. We have toured gardens all over Minnesota, including the prairie garden at St. John’s University, a concrete sculpture garden in River Falls, Wis., and a daylily development garden in Jordan, Minn. We also enjoy speakers, sponsor a flower show in a local assisted living center and chat with admirers as we care for our High Bridge Garden.
During the past two summers, the High Bridge underwent reconstruction and our summer sanctuary was assaulted with jackhammers and other construction noise. Renovations are finally finished, with a new sidewalk installed, framing the bridge beautifully. Many of the construction workers enjoyed having a break on the benches facing the garden and the city panorama. They remarked that they had liked the garden so much they had installed similar plantings at their own homes. The garden is also a popular site for wedding pictures. What a glorious backdrop the garden with a view of downtown St. Paul makes for a newly wedded couple.
Our garden has certainly changed over the years. Now we focus on native plantings to attract birds and butterflies. We still plant annuals for color but look for plants that require less water and fertilizer. Often our perennials are too successful and need division, a happy time for those who still need plants for their own gardens.
The members of our club are all passionate plant lovers and many work with other organizations to improve our communities and our environment. One member coordinates city volunteers who help maintain St. Paul’s bluffs. Being part of the West St. Paul Park and Recreation board enhances another member’s life. As an employee of Gertens Greenhouse, another member has knowledge of new plant varieties, interesting speakers and acts as Mrs. Claus during the holidays. Other members have volunteered time and energy to city garden projects.
My own garden has a mix of showy peonies, lilies, dahlias and plants for local pollinators. I love sharing unusual arrangements of my garden’s delights that I get to experience every day. All of the gardeners in our club share in some way—either their knowledge, time, plants or the joy of gardening.
Janet Favorite is a gardener and writer in St. Paul.