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Alternative Garden Club Offers Many Gardening Alternatives

Now that June has busted out all over and July is burning up the concrete, garden enthusiasts across the state are slapping on the sunscreen before they plant, prune and weed.

And just as they do every season, the Alternative Garden Club is meeting on the first Wednesday of at Sugar House Park’s Garden Center, 1602 East 2100 S.

“A lot of people think that means alternative to regular gardening, like xeriscaping,” said Dave Mash, the club’s vice president and treasurer. “But when we use the word alternative, we are really expressing that we’re a diverse group. And when we say gardening club, we do everything. There are people who specifically just have vegetable gardens or people who are involved in roses.”

Begun18 years ago by Troy Mitchell of Mitchell’s Nursery & Gifts, the club was initially a gay group, said former president Russell Pack, who now serves as the president of the Utah Associated Garden Clubs, of which the Alternative Garden Club is a member organization.

“Troy formed [the club] because there are so many gay women and men who are interested in gardening,” he said. Initially, he added, the club served not only as a social group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people but as a service organization.

Since its inception, however, the club has widened its membership to include gardeners of all sexual orientations and gender identities (though Pack said he wishes more lesbians would join). Today, said Mash, the club boats a 150 member mailing list, about 40–60 of whom attend meetings regularly. The topics at the monthly gatherings, he added, are just as diverse as the membership, which includes landscape designers and architects, arborists and horticulturists, as well as individuals with professional backgrounds in other areas. Mash himself is a retired fundraiser while Pack is the former executive director of the Salt Lake International Airport. The garden club is also popular among engineers.

“In the past we’ve had lectures which have included landscape lighting, garden lighting, also terra cotta and how to plan concrete,” he said. “We’ve had one person talk about irrigating on May 4, which included garden irrigation.”

“We’re just a group of people who get together and talk about gardens and the problems they have,” Mash explained. “Recently, I had a spruce tree that had started to die and I asked the memberships’ landscape designers [what I should do about it]. I said, ‘Who do I find in the city?’ and they put me on to a tree nerd. We trade names and resources and whenever there’s a problem they bring it up.”

In addition to dishing about the finer points of paving gardens, pulling weeds and healing sickly trees, club members also get together for regular field trips. Past locations have included a tour of Spring City’s gardens and a visit to Salt Lake City’s Wasatch Community Gardens. The group also publishes a regular newsletter featuring gardening articles on topics ranging from the history of gardening tools to how to create a drip irrigation system to the most effective way to grow garlic.

“The articles are really well done,” said Mash. “They give you a lot of information and have beautiful pictures.”

Along with diversity and the creation of beautiful, healthy gardens, the Alternative Garden Club continues to be focused on community service. Recently, Mash said the club received a $500 grant from the Utah Associated Garden Clubs that members decided to put towards helping students at Salt Lake City’s Glendale Middle School. The school, which Mash describes as being located in a “lower working class area,” has a diversity garden that the students tend.

“There was no shade, so we donated a ginkgo tree,” he said. “They picked that tree because the species existed in Jurassic times. They were quite enamored that they were going to have a tree in the garden that dinosaurs munched on.” With the money that remained after paying for labor to plant the tree, the club purchased additional plants and books on gardening for the school library.

“We liked the idea of putting books on gardening in the schools, especially in middle and grade schools,” he said.

Although the Alternative Garden Club can boast dedicated regular attendance from a large core group of members, Mash said they are always looking for new members. To increase its visibility, the club had a booth at this year’s Utah Pride Festival, where they passed out seed packets and cards detailing the organization’s activities. The booth, said Mash, drew a lot of interest, particularly from women and straight people, many of whom said they were looking for a fun and friendly place to discuss plants.

“A lot of people have told me they’re interested in the club because [clubs like] the rose society are made up of 90 year old Mormon people, and they don’t feel like they fit in there,” he said.

As the club continues to grow, Mash said he hopes that it will become not only a space for gardeners of all walks of life, but an influence on Utah’s landscape.

“I hope someday [the club] is going to be an exciting force, so we can have some kind of influence on art and gardens in Salt Lake City,” he said.

For more information about the Alternative Garden Club, including information about upcoming events, visit alternativegardenclub.com.

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JoSelle Vanderhooft

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