Better Boys

Harvesting memories with the men of Wheat Ridge.

The civic beautification concept took hold, and the men's-group membership continued to grow until the mid-'70s, when there were 250 clubs nationwide. But after that came a decline, for reasons members either can't or don't want to remember. So in 1992, the national organization decided to officially admit women -- "although there were unofficial women around before that, this much we know," Grandgeorge says -- as a potential way to attract more members; clubs were given the option of changing from a Men's Garden Club to a Gardeners of America chapter. As of last week, about half of the 109 remaining clubs had elected to make the switch, inviting the conclusion that a club is more likely to survive if it consists of Gardeners than of Men.

"Although there are pockets," Grandgeorge hints. "The Southwest region will never do it, the women thing. They are very strong and hardfast. They will never change."

It is rumored -- but only rumored -- that the Des Moines chapter, the granddaddy of them all, will have a contentious vote on the woman question this very October.

Joe Scherber and his pumpkin.
John Johnston
Joe Scherber and his pumpkin.

Meanwhile, peace reigns in Wheat Ridge, as it generally has for decades. Having taken over the management of the Happiness Garden in the early '70s, the club continues to oversee the annual renting of plots -- to members and non-members alike -- and to meet monthly for a serious meeting, except in December, when a more festive party atmosphere prevails. But while the Men of Wheat Ridge have been gracious to the female newcomers, an era is gradually drawing to a close.

You can see this -- you can practically hear it -- when you peruse a copy of Wheat Ridge Men's Garden Club Minutes, 1951-1991, compiled by now-deceased club member Jack Bennett. Bennett, who was present at the club's first meeting in 1954 -- not 1951, as his book claims -- was not known for his reportorial accuracy or his tact. For example, he billed the club $350 for publishing expenses after presenting each member with a "complimentary" copy. "It made the hair stand up at the back of my neck," Neithercut remembers, "but I wrote the check, and I have a copy of the book around somewhere." Actually, the book is dedicated to him.

That dedication includes the book's only words that are not literal transcriptions of club minutes. In style, those minutes are terse to the point of being Hemingway-esque. Reading them, I could not help comparing Bennett's recording-secretary prose with that of various female garden-club publications to which I subscribe. There is none of that "your-faithful-correspondent-spied-an-entire-nest-of-darling-wrens" or "a-yummy-potluck-was-enjoyed-by-all-yes-that-means-you-Bridget" to be found anywhere in this company of men.

Instead, they got right down to business: "A talk on broad-leaf evergreens...bonsai...dwarf fruit trees was presented. It was very good. Apple pie and coffee were served. 11 men present. Mr. Mulligan showed slides. They were very fine. Refreshments were good." Any reference to cocktails being part of those refreshments does not appear until twenty years into the club's existence. References to women are not made at all, as the account ends in 1991.

From Minutes:

First meeting, 1951 (actually 1954), attended by men either in the nursery trades or one degree removed: "George Kelly spoke. He advised planting better, slow-growing trees."

Second meeting, July 26 at John Bird's: "Tony User was the speaker. He talked about raising bulbs in Holland. They pump water away from the bulbs. Raised in sand, planted 4 inches apart. Bloom is cut off as soon as possible. The food from leaves goes down into bulb. Bull session was held, mostly on water dowsing."

1955: Guest speaker advocates soaking bulbs in "5% DDT solution" before planting.

Spring meeting, 1956: "Quite a discussion. Refreshments. Adjourned."

November 26, 1957: "Talked about lack of interest in our club. Each of us must think of something to do."

September 25, 1962: "Mr. Kramer talked on 'What's New In Spray Chemicals.'"

Sometime in 1963: "Fred passed away. Rained all day .62 of an inch."

Sometime late in 1964, while planning holiday gathering: "We will need 16 pies."

August 20, 1967: "Mr. Horner and two boys were guest speakers. They talked on winged bugs and flies."

May 28, 1968: "Good talk. Ireland is greenest place on earth."

August 1969: "Elwyn made a talk -- one part of DDT in 2 billion will affect growth of shrimp."

January 26, 1971: "Gave $1010 to Denver Botanic Garden for new row of trees."

July 25, 1972: "Ball game was on. Not much meeting."

December 7, 1974: "A good-sized crowd showed up although it snowed, and is still snowing. Had a good ham dinner. The program was very fine. Presents not so fine. 12 from Wheat Ridge attended.

July 25, 1978: "We met at Botanic Gardens at 6:30 p.m. Our president, Wilbur Haggstrom, killed himself. John Conway is now president. We had a sack lunch. It tried to rain."

October 23, 1979: "Pumpkin contest was too little, too late."

March 24, 1980: "Rust showed pictures of iris and day lilies. They were very good. We had nice refreshments of fruit and cheese. Home very late. It snowed some. Goodnight!"

December 1981: "It was reported that the national Men's Garden Club suffered a $31,000 loss through embezzling."

From 1982: "Each year new problems -- clay topsoil...manure...squirrels...coons. . .skunks, etc."

December 22, 1983: "Same officers next year as this year. Railroaded them in."

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