A view from the past of Sarah Johnson’s garden in rural Spring Valley reminds us what spring is supposed to be looking like now.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
A view from the past of Sarah Johnson’s garden in rural Spring Valley reminds us what spring is supposed to be looking like now. SUBMITTED PHOTO
The few warmer days and gentle rains of early April seemed to promise a May filled with flowering flora to brighten the Spring Valley area. However, just as crocuses, daffodils, and tulips were pushing through the soil, winter returned.

These blustery days have not dampened the spirits of the Spring Valley Garden Club, which is planning a trip to Seed Savers, getting ready for its Ag Days flower show with a theme of "Down on the Farm" and is still going strong more than 50 years after it started.

This club was founded March 10, 1960, when area citizens gathered in the basement of Spring Valley's Carnegie Library (now city hall) and a commitment was made to help beautify Spring Valley. Ideas focused on the caring for personal flowerbeds as well as planting and tending various flowerbeds around town. This club is open to anyone with an interest in learning about gardening.

"I joined the garden club because I liked being with people who had the same interest and to learn new ideas about gardening," said Ruth Lemke of Spring Valley who has belonged to the Spring Valley Garden Club for 50 years. "I enjoy helping beautify our community and being involved in our annual flower shows."

The activities sponsored by the Spring Valley Garden Club are planting and maintaining several flower beds and tubs in and around Spring Valley, hosting a plant sale each May, lining up and attending garden tours, hosting the annual flower show during Ag Days in August, and offering monthly meetings to those interested in various aspects of gardening, composting and other topics related to creating and maintaining gardens.

Even though Ann (Lemke) Ihrke joined the Spring Valley Garden Club in 2010 as "a way to get out socially with a group that has a common interest," gardening seems to not only run in her family but her husband, Brad, has been very helpful in working with her to create beautiful flower beds.

"I started with small flower gardens and a small vegetable garden," muses Ihrke. "The flowers have tripled in size, at least, and the vegetable garden at home expanded and now we rent a plot at the community garden site. I have become a lot more deliberate in my plant choices. I also find that working in the garden is a great stress reliever after a day of work."

Several members of the garden club, such as Nancy Cornell, live outside of the Spring Valley city limits. About eight years ago, Cornell became interested in joining because "I love gardening and we were new to town so thought this would be a great way to meet people. Wayne Fenske, my neighbor, was in the garden club and he had beautiful flowers and a magnificent back yard."

Improving her leadership skills by serving with Deb Dahl as past co-president and organizing a very successful garden club district convention, which was held in Spring Valley in 2010, are ways Cornell has grown both as a gardener and personally by being a part of this group.

"As a gardener I've learned new gardening techniques, what types of plants others have success growing, gained new ideas from visiting a variety of gardens from club members' gardens to those on field trips," she said. "Through our monthly meetings I have learned about such topics as genetically modified plants, straw bale and square foot gardening."

Cornell recommends joining the garden club because "It is a great way to meet new people, to gain some gardening knowledge no matter if you have gardened a long time or are just starting out and through our area flower beds and downtown planters it is a great way to do something appealing and enjoyable for our community."

The Spring Valley Garden Club is introducing a new program, "Garden Club Friends" for those who would like to lend a helping hand to care for plants around town. "Garden Club Friends would be great for older adults, teens and possibly children. This 'group,' really on an individual basis, helps out the garden club on a one-time or more basis, assisting with watering the downtown planters when garden club members are away, or helping with any of our flower beds around town or maybe baking for the bake sale at our flower show." says Cornell. This is an opportunity for civic, youth, or church groups to get involved with beautifying Spring Valley.

Five years ago, Jan Hammon joined the garden club "because I wanted to learn more about gardening. My husband is interested in gardening and I thought it would be a good place for me to learn more and bring home ideas for us to try."

Hammon was intimidated to go in the beginning because of her lack of knowledge; "wagers" in her home were made about how long she would be able to keep a plant alive. She was pleased to find the Spring Valley Garden Club to be not only "a diverse group but the members were so welcoming and friendly and supportive. The things that I have learned from this group are that no matter how long you have been gardening there are always new things to learn, that your gardens are your own creations that should be pleasing to you and what you like, and that a big part of gardening is trial and error - you put a plant there and see how it does and if it doesn't thrive there move it to a different location."

Hammon suggests that anyone interested in growing any kind of plant should consider checking this group out. "Each meeting a different topic is presented, we visit each other's gardens, we go on tours of nurseries and gardens, we have guest speakers, we learn about how to cook with different foods, we provide the community with flower beds and downtown planters, and best of all - we exchange plants! Everybody is welcome to join - no matter where you live, male or female. And you don't have to join to have fun with us. Come to the meetings, come to our events, be a garden club Friend, you can participate as much as your schedule allows."

An upcoming activity sponsored by the Spring Valley Garden Club is a trip to Seed Savers in Decorah on Sunday, May 5. "The public is invited to come," says Ihrke, who also welcomes members of other garden clubs from Wykoff, Harmony, Chatfield and Adams.

The group is meeting at First State Bank parking lot, 1030 North Broadway, next to Dollar General, at 1 p.m. to coordinate carpooling. Participants will likely spend a couple of hours at Seed Savers and plan to return around 5 p.m. Questions can be answered by calling Deb Dahl at (507) 272-2163.

"Seed Savers is an amazing place to go," remarks Hammon. "They specialize in producing and selling heirloom seeds. These seeds can be saved from the plant each year and used the following year. They have varieties of seeds that originated years ago. They are located in a rural valley north of Decorah that is just gorgeous. Their gardens are spectacular to see as well as the unique breeds of animals that they have. You can go often and always see something new."

"I hope people will consider becoming members. We are not experts in gardening; we are just a group of people with a common interest in growing plants - flowers, vegetables, houseplants, you name it," Ihrke notes. "We understand that it is not possible to attend all meetings. It is not necessary to be able to arrange flowers to be involved with the flower show. It's fun to share our experiences and observations and have a laugh or two."

An annual gathering that is anticipated with great excitement is the flower show for Spring Valley's celebration of Ag Days. This year's theme is "Down on the Farm" with categories: orchard, vegetable garden, barnyard animals, fields of grain, tractors, farm kitchen, windmill, and picnic in the pasture. This year's show will be Friday, Aug. 16.

The Spring Valley Garden Club meets at the meeting room of the Spring Valley Public Library on the second Tuesday of each month, February through November, at 7 p.m. unless otherwise announced.

For more information on getting involved with the Spring Valley Garden Club visit its new website at www.springvalleygardenclub.weebly.com or call Dahl at (507) 272-2163.