*Editor’s Note: This article is from 2017 and there will be no Secret Garden Tour in 2018. However, the club is still thriving and welcomes members and inquiries.

Secrets tantalize and intrigue us.  The Olympia Garden Club (OGC) does both as they invite us to discover the Secret Gardens of Olympia on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, May 13, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on a carefully designed tour.  Tickets may be purchased in advance for $20 or for $25 on the day of the tour.

The seven gardens on the self-guided tour are a “secret” until you pick up a program with directions to each garden. Maps can be picked up in the parking lot of The Law Offices of Harold D. Carr, located at 4329 Martin Way E. in Olympia on the morning of the tour.  Each of the gardens is simply spectacular.  One highlights several garden rooms, another showcases rhododendrons, while others reveal distinct water features, lush plantings and edible garden areas.

Olympia Garden Club
The Olympia Garden Club’s Board Members share the wonderful work the organization has done for the past 94 years.

The Olympia Garden Club itself might be a secret to many in our community. A few weeks ago I spent a lovely afternoon at Debbie Spiller’s home with several members of the club and learned about the tour and so much more.  Debbie is the current president of the club, which has been in existence since 1924 in association with the Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs. Through the years, the membership has fluctuated with about 67 current members, making it the largest club in the district. “We are always welcoming new members,” Debbie told me.

Ellen Caywood, current vice president of the club, and past president, JoAnne Sandell, explained many of the club’s goals and past projects.  Ellen said, “Obviously, all the club members have developed a keen interest in gardening and enjoy the monthly meetings held at Gull Harbor Church on the last Thursday of the month.” Joanne continued, “Speakers, craft activities and floral design presentations are often on the agenda as well as planning for events and philanthropic projects.”

Olympia Garden Club
The Olympia Garden Club’s yearly tradition of tree planting at Priest Point Park often has the assistance of city officials. Photo credit: Olympia Garden Club

The Arbor Day celebration in Priest Point Park is a long established tradition the Garden Club supports by planting a tree each year. Since the 1970s, the club has added dogwoods and other small shrubs to the beautiful park. The club invites the public to join them this year on April 12. Since 1979 the Memorial Park and its three gardens at Burfoot Park have also been a labor of love for the club. They hold work parties to weed, plant and maintain the beauty of this welcoming park.

In the over ninety-year history of the club, many changes have been made.

“Before the Olympia Garden Club decided to host the Secret Garden Tour for the first time in 2015,” Bobbie Schoss, chair of the Secret Garden Tour, explained, “we had many other fundraising events.”  The longest running event was Merry Makings, which began in the 1950s. The members created holiday wreaths as their fundraiser, however, the group agreed that the time was ripe to try something new.

Olympia Garden Club
Water features are just one of the many features of the spectacular gardens on this year’s tour. Photo courtesy: OGC

The funds generated by Merry Makings and other smaller events supported scholarships for local students. However, it was becoming more difficult to solicit student applications for the small amount the club was able to offer.  “In 2011 we decided to turn our focus to awarding grants to Thurston County Schools instead, Darlene Miller, chair of the Grants to Schools Committee, explained. “In those six years we have given 49 grants.”

By attending the Secret Garden Tour, you will be supporting this extremely worthwhile project. The selection criteria for grants includes the following: the proposal must be connected to student learning, many students must be engaged, it must have an impact on community service and engagement, and the amount of grant dollars requested must be appropriate to the project proposal.

Olympia Garden Club
The student garden at Garfield Elementary School in Olympia was the recipient of one of the grants given to schools by the Olympia Garden Club.
Photo credit: Olympia Garden Club

Some past grant recipients include The Tenino Community Garden, Boys and Girls Clubs of Lacey and Tumwater, and Capital High School GRUB program.  In addition, several schools in the Tumwater, Olympia, North Thurston, Yelm, Tenino, Rainier, and Rochester Districts have received grants as have two private schools. Amazing projects related to gardening have either been initiated or given a great boost by these grants.

One particular grant is noteworthy. In 2014, Olympic View Elementary School’s Garden Club, under the direction of teacher, Sara Boedighiemer, became an affiliate of the Olympia Garden Club. In 1971, Sara’s father Steve earned one of the OGC’s scholarships while he was studying at St. Martin’s University. Sara showed her appreciation by sending a note to the club saying, “Thank you so much. This program is such a passion of mine, and we are helping so many kids get outside and connect with nature and healthy organic food because of your generous support.”

Everyone loves secrets, and who does not love a gorgeous garden in springtime? For more information on the Olympia Garden Club and The Secret Garden Tour, visit their website.

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