BOWLING GREEN -- Against a backdrop of wisps of white, pops of pink, and bursts of blue at the Wood County Fair, Ellen Farison recalled many at-dawn mornings, scrambling to put finishing touches on displays of the perennially popular flower show.
"This is really a beehive setting up the show each year," said Mrs. Farison of Bowling Green, an award-winning gardener who has been a member of the Trowel & Tractor Garden Club since 1966.
Long active in the fair, the club is observing its 60th anniversary in 2011, and Let's Celebrate was a most appropriate theme for the Wood County Fair Flower Show last week. Bouquets of blooms, fanciful floral arrangements, and hanging baskets, spilling with color, bedecked the exhibit hall in the Women's Building.
The Trowel & Tractor Garden Club sprouted in March, 1951, when bylaws were drawn up, the name was chosen, and the new group joined the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs. The club is a member of the Wood County Garden Clubs, and Mrs. Farison noted that at one time, the county had 16 clubs. The number has dwindled to a handful.
"I think it is pretty remarkable the club has been around for 60 years," said Cathy Nelson of Bowling Green, director of the Wood County Fair Flower Show. "One of the challenges for garden clubs today is to get youngsters involved in growing flowers and in doing flower arrangements."
The flower show attracted 57 junior entries (for those 17 years and younger), showing an ongoing interest in flower gardening, but some garden club members said that doesn't guarantee a growing interest in membership.
Mrs. Farison, 84, who at one time tended to more than 90 varieties of flowers in her garden, said attendance in garden clubs plummeted about the time women headed into the work force in droves. She was president of the county garden club association in the 1970s, a peak time for garden-club membership.
"So many women have gone to work," she said, and even though garden clubs offer night meetings, "it is a totally different ball game."
Trowel & Tractor, much like other garden clubs formed decades ago, was a women-only group for many years, but that different ball game has brought in the menfolk.
"At one time garden clubs encouraged women to be in gardening and to help at the flower shows," said Melva Robinson of Perrysburg, a Trowel & Tractor club member with her husband, Jerry. They joined in 2003, at a time when he was the only male in the club, she said. Since then, the club has attracted other men who participate in the monthly meetings and are active in flower shows.
Over the years, Trowel & Tractor's members have been residents of Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, Bowling Green, Weston, Haskins, and other communities in Lucas and Wood counties, Mrs. Robinson said. Originally, most if not all members were from Weston, recalled Leona Cox, 92, of Weston, a club member for nearly 60 years.
For many years, she said, she was the club's treasurer, and at fair time, she helped put the flower show specimens on display. "It was always so pretty. I miss it. It's a lot of work, though," she said. Because of the hot weather, she did not attend the fair this year and wasn't involved in setting up the show.
Mrs. Cox said back in the day, women had more time to garden. "We didn't have TV. We went out after we had dinner and worked until it got dark," she said. That, she added, was before people became tethered to their smart phones, lap tops, and other devices.
Spending time outdoors, digging in the dirt, watching things grow and bloom, those still are big draws for Trowel & Tractor members, particularly for those who eagerly await the arrival of seed catalogues. "They start arriving in the mailbox shortly after Christmas," said Mrs. Farison, who likes to scan through the catalogues to see what's new.
And in this year, as the club marks its anniversary, members created a special exhibit at the fair. It included a copy of the club's constitution requiring that members must have a garden and must work in it; that they be willing to participate in club duties assigned to them, and to cooperate with club activities. The rules are the same in 2011 as in March, 1951, when the Trowel & Tractor took root 60 years ago.