Cultivating gardens and friendships in Shelton: ‘Working for the earth is good for your soul’

At the Olde Ripton Garden Club meeting at on Sept. 8, members greeted each other warmly after some had been away for summer vacations.

They dropped off plants for the “plant swap” and mulled over the identities of flowers on the “plant mystery” table. And before the official meeting got started, they caught up with each other’s lives and gardens.

Being a garden club member is “a great way to meet people,” said Judith Wise, a seven-year club member and its former secretary.

“I enjoy doing this for my town,” said Wise, whose club responsibilities include making holiday wreaths and sprucing up the Huntington Green.

“Working for the earth is good for your soul,” she said. ”Seeing things grow is rewarding.“

Wise said she’s learned a lot at the club, and now feeds the hummingbirds that visit her own “eco-friendly” garden.

Linda Tura, a 10-year member, said a friend suggested she join the group after she retired from her teaching career. “I love to garden,” she said.

Tura said the club has shown her how to deal with the challenges of gardening in Shelton, with its rocks and ledges, sandy soil, and the deer that “nibble” at her begonias.

New member is introduced

Renée Marsh, garden club president, opened the meeting by introducing Richard Burns, a new member.

Burns said he spends his days keeping up the large garden that his late wife Ruth Burns started “years ago.” “I enjoy gardening,” Burns said.

Marsh went on to discuss the current theme of the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut — “Be kind to pollinators.”

Each month this year, the club will highlight such native pollinators as bats, flies, wasps and moths, as well as bees, birds and butterflies.

Club members will also focus on planting native plants and how to get rid of invasive plants, she said.

Helpful hints are offered

Throughout the meeting, Marsh and others shared information useful to gardeners.

Members may visit, she said, to find out about the Highways Bee Act, pending legislation that aims to spur landscaping alongside highways to benefit pollinators.

Now is a good time to plant mums in city gardens in Shelton, she said, and there were suggestions on where to buy the best bulbs and where to find discounts for garden club members.

The Garden Conservancy sponsors “open garden days” when private gardens may be visited, Marsh said, and gardeners should report sightings of the mile-a-minute weed to the UConn Extension Center.

Marsh has been a garden club member for four years, and joined after she saw an announcement of a club meeting in the Shelton Herald.

“I have a technological background,” she said, and the club now has a website — — and other promotional materials.

Marsh is a Connecticut master gardener with a “strong horticultural background” and has connections with the UConn Extension Center and Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

Beautifying the community

Marsh does volunteer work for the Shelton History Center, where the club maintains an herb garden. “Civic beautification is a big part of what the club works on,” she said.

Club members maintain the gardens near the sign at Shelton High School, and beautify the Huntington Green, library, community center and post office.

Each holiday season, they make 22 wreaths for Shelton’s municipal buildings, fill the urns outside the library, decorate the wall along the Huntington Green, and decorate a room at the Osborne Homestead Museum in Derby.

Club members also run a garden therapy program at the Crosby Commons assisted living facility, where they conduct programs on flower arranging and making potpourri.

The club gives a high school scholarship. It conducts an annual fund-raiser plant sale in May at St. Paul’s Church in Huntington, and proceeds go toward buying wreath-making materials and plants for city gardens.

Being an active club member “takes a lot of work,” Marsh said.

Renée Protomastro, club vice president, agrees. “We lug water,” she said. “It’s a real labor of love. We love Shelton and making it look better. There’s a lot of work we do behind the scenes that may be invisible.”

Recruiting new members

Marsh said the club is trying to recruit new members. “We try to educate people on horticultural and environmental issues,” she said, including the impact of chemicals on plants, and organic gardening.

“We’re trying to bring new life to the club,” said Protomastro, including new members and new activities.

Topics for upcoming meetings range from a talk on the life of Frances Osborne Kellogg, and a fall holiday decoration workshop to a discussion of “foolproof hydrangeas,” a workshop on hanging baskets and a talk on how to keep colorful plants in a garden all year long.

Open to women and men of all ages

Women and men of all ages are invited to garden club meetings that take place on the first Monday of the month at 10 a.m. at Plumb Library, 65 Wooster St. There are currently 41 garden club members.

“We’re trying to get more kids involved,” Protomastro said. “We’re not looking for expert gardeners, just those who love the outdoors. Every level of gardener is welcome.

“We really have a good time together,” Protomastro said. “We’re proud of the heritage of Shelton and its open space. We feel an obligation to continue that.”

For information on club membership, call Marsh at 203-926-0021 or go to