The New Paltz Garden Club offers some welcome plant therapy

Snowdrops emerge in a Rosendale backyard. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Snowdrops emerge in a Rosendale backyard. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

“We’re making the world more beautiful one blossom at a time,” says Bonnie Finkenaur, president of the New Paltz Garden Club. She laughs as she makes the pronouncement in a mock serious tone, but the sentiment is real. “Flowers bring joy to your life,” she says. “It’s a community thing that we do, and we do make New Paltz a nicer place.”

Finkenaur has only been president of the garden club since December, but she’s been a member for at least 15 years, she says. The club founded in 1946 currently has 29 active members and eight associate members. At this time, they’re all women, although they have had men in the club in past years, says Finkenaur. “Anyone who likes to garden is welcome.”

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And even if one has “a completely black thumb,” she adds, “there are all different aspects to being in the garden club. Maybe a person doesn’t garden, but likes flower arranging. Or maybe they’d like working on the website, or they like photography; we had a flower show and took photographs, then we framed those and hung them at the Gardiner Library. The New Paltz Garden Club is for anybody interested in getting involved in the community in a really easy and rewarding way.”

Annual dues for active members are $20. Members can become active after attending two regular meetings. They serve on one hospitality committee a year and are scheduled to work in one of the garden areas.

The club maintains three gardens throughout New Paltz: the perennial garden on Huguenot Street, at the driveway to the education center; the gardens at the corner of Chestnut and Main streets in town; and the Deyo Hall xeriscape garden on both sides of Broadhead Avenue.

The New Paltz Garden Club also maintains the large planters at the Thruway toll booth year-round. The flowers for the summer plantings are donated by the Ferrante family of Wallkill View Farm, says Finkenaur. “They’ve been doing it for years. And they ask no recognition for it — they’re just very supportive of the community.”

Meetings are held on the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at Deyo Hall. Each meeting features a speaker or a workshop where there’s an activity (making clay pots for planting or holiday wreaths, for example) and ends with refreshments provided by members on a rotating basis.

There are no meetings held in January and February, or in July and August, although the group does schedule trips and special events in the summer months that members and the public alike are welcome to attend. Upcoming trips this summer include a tour of Opus 40 in Saugerties (Sunday, July 13) and a tour of Stonecrop Gardens in Cold Spring (Sunday, Aug. 17).

The club sponsors trips at other times of the year, too. Recently they organized trips to the big Philadelphia Flower Show and the Boston Flower and Garden Show. On the horizon for April (Monday, April 21) is an outing to the Orange County Arboretum for a program on spring bulbs.

The New Paltz Garden Club is also a charitably-minded group. Members are asked to bring nonperishable food items to each meeting for distribution to Family of New Paltz. And as a club affiliated with the National Garden Clubs, Inc. and the Federated Garden Clubs of New York State, they extend their reach worldwide, as well, supporting the international nonprofit World Gardening, an organization that builds wells in third world countries.

In addition, the garden club sponsors a $1,000 scholarship every year for a graduating high school senior. Finkenaur says the award is open to students pursuing a college degree in horticulture, environmental science or something similarly related to the garden club’s interests.

They also purchased two top-quality gardening books every year to donate to the Elting Library and the Gardiner Library (one book to each). “We’ve been doing that for a long time,” says Finkenaur, “so the gardening sections of those libraries have really nice books in them that we — and everyone else — can go borrow.”

The group also gives out civic beautification awards to local businesses in New Paltz and support other community endeavors.

Their projects are funded in large part by events like the Table Carousel, held every 18 months in alternating spring and fall affairs. Club members decorate tables with fresh flower centerpieces in a theme of their choice, and include desserts on the tables for those who will then be seated at that table for coffee and dessert. Before that, however, Finkenaur says that the guests walk around and take in all the displays. “It’s amazing to see how creative people are,” she says. The most recent event was just held last fall, so there won’t be another until spring of 2015.

Before then, however, the public is welcome to attend the annual Plant Swap on Saturday, May 17 from 8 a.m. to noon on the lawn at Deyo Hall. Members have had time to thin out their perennials by then, says Finkenaur, and they’ll bring those in small pots along with seedlings grown for the purpose and any matter of gardening tool or supplies. Club members that bring plants to swap get points that they can use to “purchase” the plants that other members have brought in, or people can just purchase the plants.

“The beauty of the Plant Swap,” says Finkenaur, “is getting things that are grown locally here in this soil and this climate; things that will be healthy right here. So many times I’ve bought things that were grown in another place and the plant just doesn’t adapt. But these plants are going to live, because they’ve already been multiplying right here.” The event doesn’t generate a lot of funds raised, she adds, “but we make a lot of people happy.”

The New Paltz Garden Club meets every third Monday. The next meeting will be Monday, April 21 at 7 p.m. at Deyo Hall, 18 Broadhead Avenue in New Paltz. For more information, call (845) 255-8856, e-mail info@newpaltzgardenclub.org or visit www.NewPaltzGardenClub.org.