A local painting contest recently showed me how two gardens tended to by two different Town and Country garden clubs could be so different. One of those gardens was chosen time and again by local artists looking for that perfect picture to paint.
When my wife and I moved back to Missouri after spending 16 years in the Washington DC area, my wife was thinking of joining a garden club near our home in Town and Country.
She had been the co-president for several years of a large and very active club in Maryland.
She discovered two clubs close by: the Town and Country Garden Club, which looked after things at Drace Park off Clayton Road facing Interstate 270; and the Mason Ridge Garden Club, started by a woman from Creve Coeur, which volunteered its services at Longview Farm Park.
Asked if there was an active garden club, a woman at Drace Park gave her some interesting advice: "Honey, if you are looking for a working club, you need to go to the Webster Groves Garden Club."
That may have been as much of a self-deprecating remark as anything. The gardens around the log cabins at Drace Park are always magnificent and clearly a lot of hard work has gone into them.
Over the next four years of watching the gardens of the two groups—while walking the dogs in both parks and being an elected official at city hall–it was clear the two clubs were not at all alike.
The people at Drace Park never asked for anything from the city. They picked a small area around the log house and log cabin and did not get overwhelmed trying to maintain flowers all over the park. Their heavy use of perennials mixed with annuals kept color around until the first hard freeze of winter.
Meanwhile over at Longview, the leader of the gardeners demanded they be given their own section of the garage that was part of the new $1.5 million addition to the farmhouse in the middle of the park. They also wanted the city to spend up to $1,000 a year purchasing plants and materials, included hostas, in the heavily deer-populated park!
In the late spring of 2009, the club's leader backed a resolution introduced by an alderwoman for the city to enter into a $25,000 no bid contract with a local landscaper to build new beds and a flagstone walkway around the east side of the farmhouse to replace a path of made of mulch. Such a deal violated the city code.
Eventually the contract was forced to be advertised and go to bid. The local landscaper did not even bid on the work.
To me, the test of which garden club's work was the best came Oct. 23. That was the day for the Plein Air painting competition called "Impressions of Town and Country."
Impressionistic painters from around the region came to Town and County and had their blank canvasses marked at 8 a.m. before the start of the annual Fall Festival event at Longview Park. The rules were the artists could go anywhere in Town and County and paint for seven hours.
It turned out there were more artists at Drace Park, the smallest of the three parks in Town and Country, than anywhere else. All their paintings included the colorful work of the Town and Country Garden Club. There were artists at Longview Park, but none of their paintings featured any of the gardens.
"The ladies do all the work with no outside help," said Jan Boehm, a 50-year member of the Town and Country Garden Club. "Much of the plantings are from our own gardens. We had a member pass away this year and we moved quite a bit from her garden to Drace Park."
One artist was asked at a reception following the judging why so many artists were at Drace Park.
"The colors are the best there along with the light," was the response.
It was interesting that the judges chose winning paintings of landscapes of no true identifiable structures tying them to Town and Country. Paintings of the open fields at The Principia took two of the top three awards.
Many of the paintings from the competition are on display at the Longview Farmhouse in Longview Park on Clayton Road west of Mason Road through Dec. 15.
The other area volunteer garden on the same level as the one at Drace Park is in an area is located about 600 feet west of the Town and Country city limits along Mason Road in Queeny Park. The small garden in front of the old stable is outstanding, despite the gardeners having to deal with one of the largest concentrations of deer in the area.