Memories And Folklore Distinguish This Nature Book Women's Garden Club Tailored The Project To Appeal To Children

October 28, 1990|By Dolly Merritt

Revelations about buttercups and butter, mistletoe and romance, and trees and toddlers aren't usually the stuff of gardening books. But such tidbits of personal associations with plants, combined with practical information about 27 plant species, are what makes the book "Sampling Nature's Bounty," published by the Cattail River Garden Club, unique.

After two years of researching, writing, illustrating and editing, the 27 members of the 35-year-old club in Glenwood are pleased with the finished product -- three hardback books, one of which was given to County Executive Elizabeth Bobo during a recent luncheon meeting. The Lisbon Library and the Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood are the other recipients.

"We want to have an impact on the community," said Marge Katzenberg, chairwoman of the garden club. "We are not just a bunch of ladies growing flowers."

The book evolved out of another club project that began about three years ago. Students at the Bushy Park school needed some improvements to their nature trail and the garden club came to their rescue. The club spent a total of $3,000 for three 14-foot-tall maple trees, a specially constructed picnic table set in concrete, and a trash receptacle. The club uses the money earned from its annual fall garden sale of homemade dried wreaths, flower arrangements and potpourri to pay for such community endeavors.

"We are a real, working garden club," said Lainy Dunst, chairwoman of the book project. "A big percentage of the members have a garden; the women even know the botanical names of most plants." With that in mind, Dunst suggested that members compile their knowledge in a book that students at Bushy Park school could use as a reference for plants that they would like to grow along their nature trail.

Each club member selected either a favorite plant or one that was included on a "wish list" compiled by the students for the nature trail.

After researching gardening books to check details like growth requirements, history and the origin of each plant, members recorded the information alongside their own comments about the trees, flowers or shrubs.

For instance, Mary Charlotte Nicodemus shared her knowledge of Ranunculus hispidus -- the buttercup. Her page on the flower includes a "test" to help readers determine their fondness for butter: "Use one of the buttercup petals and hold it under your chin. If yellow is reflected up on your chin, you like butter and maybe even love it."

Another club member, Irene Smallwood, wrote about mistletoe. The 91-year-old Glenwood resident, who has been a member of the garden club for 30 years, wrote about hanging mistletoe decorations to "steal a kiss" from persons who paused underneath. She also included a memory from December 1915, when she accompanied other neighborhood boys and girls to collect mistletoe from trees. The group took off for the woods in a pickup truck equipped with a rope, ladder and lantern.

"That was 74 years ago in Montgomery County. We would climb up to the tops of trees; we never were able to collect a lot," Smallwood said. "I haven't seen any for some time. People have taken down so many trees, you can't find any."

It's easy to understand why Catherine Reilly wrote about the "sugar tree," the species that grows in her front yard. The octogenarian, who has been a club member for 30 years, estimates that the sugar maple tree that shades her property is about 100 years old.

"The tree is so outstanding. It's a beautiful thing on our front lawn; that's why everyone notices it," Reilly said. As a matter of fact, it was the 100-foot-tall tree that inspired the club to donate three red-leaf maples to the nature trail at Bushy Park school.

Besides researching the tree's growing conditions and collecting information from a friend who is a landscaper, Reilly included fond memories of watching three generations of children romp beneath the tree's branches. She has 19 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

"My great-grandsons, who are 2, 3, 5 and 6 years old, were just recently whooping it up under the tree with their balls and wagons," she said.

Such writings of the three women represent the intentions of the club members.

"We wanted to write something that would grab a child's attention," Dunst said. "We hope the book will create enough interest to make them want to plant something after reading it."

After all 27 manuscripts were complete, the group was ready to advance to the next steps -- editing and illustrating. Carol de Fries, who has been a member of the club for 24 years, checked the manuscripts for misspellings, capitalization and incorrect grammar.

"I've never had any training at all in proofreading and I kept referring to books. I kept reading and re-reading the manuscripts, each time finding additional mistakes," said the Lisbon resident.

Three members of the club -- Rose Lofgren, a retired free-lance commercial artist, and Mary Kirwan and Lainy Dunst, both students of Columbia artist David Zuccarini -- illustrated and hand-colored each drawing with colored pencils. Zuccarini advised them during the project.

"The editing, coloring, drawing -- all of these things took time and we meet only once a month. Even the binding took time," Dunst said. She recruited her neighbor, Tyler Harding -- whose hobby is bookbinding -- to put the book together. Another member of the group, Sharon Bolinger, did the calligraphy for the book's headings, page numbers, titles and picture captions.

The total cost of the books was $300. The club will be submitting the result of its efforts for the Hewitt Award -- a national recognition for an outstanding community effort by a federated garden club.

"We are reaching for the moon," Dunst said. "The women have put so much effort into it, we figured we will go hog wild and see if we can be winners."

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