By Jennifer Corr
The Syosset Garden Club is not just a group of “ladies who lunch.”
Though they do eat lunch at meetings, they’re a group of people of all ages, coming from near and far, who educate themselves on the environment and methods of gardening, as well as a group who helps the community through initiatives like providing Meals on Wheels holiday centerpieces.
“We make little arrangements, Christmas arrangements, that we donate to Meals on Wheels,” said longtime member and past president of the club Bonnie O’Connell. “We make 100 of them. They put them on the people’s trays for the Christmas holidays. And it’s green, so it lasts throughout the season.”
They are a welcoming group of people where friendship comes easy.
Formed on Nov. 6, 1948, the Syosset Garden Club is a member of the National Council of State Garden Clubs, which is based in St. Louis, MO. and the Federated Garden Clubs of New York State based in Albany. The club meets once a month at the The Farm at Oyster Bay, located on Split Rock Road in Syosset.
Joining the club in 1993, O’Connell can remember a time that the club looked much different. Meetings used to take place at members’ houses, and tea time and flower arranging were certainly essential.
“We’re trying to get more involved in the community and we try to help out here on the farm,” said Anna Zakhary, the president of the Syosset Garden Club. She joined in 2013. “We try to have some activities with the Girl Scouts who meet here, something where they could get a badge. We had a member who passed away three years ago and we all loved her, so we planted a large bush in her honor, and we did that with the Girl Scouts.”
The Syosset Garden Club has also been working with the Syosset Public Library. Zakhary said the garden club grew interested in forming a partnership with the library after the “Seed Library” was established during the pandemic.
“There’s a program through garden clubs to engage younger kids to be a little bit more aware of the environment where they have a backpack and there’s a book about a frog that’s geared towards kids about five years old,” said O’Connell. “We put in some seeds and some of those little containers where you can grow plants in. Kids can take out the backpack [from the library] and of course they can keep the seeds and the plant and make that with their mom. There’s a magnifying glass to look at plants and bugs. They read the book, and return it. And then another child can take it out.”
And part of the Syosset Garden Club’s dues go towards scholarships and donations for organizations and local gardens. The National Council of State Garden Clubs and Federated Garden Clubs of New York State also supports international and national environmental organizations like Water for South Sudan and Penny Pines.
“It’s another way that garden club ladies are doing more than just having tea,” O’Connell said.
During the meeting, members will take part in workshops like floral design, container gardening, aromatherapy and “forming pollinator pathways.” Sometimes special guests, such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension, speak at workshops. Members also partake in a business meeting and then they enjoy lunch, courtesy of that meeting’s “hostesses,” which rotate between members. Hostesses are expected to provide beverages, lunch (which can be sandwiches, salads and anything else the team of hostesses decide on) and to arrive early and stay late to help set up and clean up.
Sometimes the garden club will also make themed flower arrangements and take field trips to community gardens.
“I’m the environmental chairlady,” said O’Connell, who is involved in other local environmental initiatives. “At each meeting I give a discussion about some aspect of the environment, trying to make people more aware and more involved.”
Zakhary added that the club is moving in a direction that’s more focused on the environment.
“Garden clubs have a long history of being involved with environmental issues,” O’Connell said. “It may interest you to know that when Teddy Roosevelt was opening the first National Park, garden club ladies were among the leaders of pushing that project.”
The club has continued to stay strong, with members continuing to stay in touch even during a hiatus caused by the pandemic.
“I became like a blogger,” said O’Connell. “I was blogging stuff to the group. Then we’d communicate back and forth to each other, ‘who read a good book?’ Stuff that people were doing in their gardens. We stuck together through the pandemic in that way.”
Anyone can join the Syosset Garden Club, regardless of where they live, what gender they are, what age they are and even if they don’t garden at home, though having some interest in plants and the environment is certainly recommended as that’s the main topic of discussion.
“Even some people who are not really gardeners enjoy coming also, because there’s so much knowledge,” Zakhary said. “There’s so much to learn when you come here. We try to make it as interesting as possible… We do want to encourage new members.”
Those interested can come to three meetings before deciding to commit.
“There’s just a nice feeling in the club,” O’Connell said. “It’s not cliquey at all.”
Zakhary added that there’s no egos in the club and it operates as a democracy. “It’s comfortable,” Zakhary said.
To learn more about the Syosset Garden Club and how to attend a meeting, call Zakhary at 516-728-3217.