On Monday afternoon, October 24th,1932, Mrs. R.M. Ballantyne invited a group of ladies to her home at 30 Forden Avenue to consider the possibility of forming a Garden Club. Mrs. R.J. Mercur gave a short informal talk outlining what Garden Clubs were for and what they could do. She spoke of their great usefulness in stimulating interest in gardens, in valuable exchanges of hints and experience and in arranging competitions or small flower shows. Mrs. Ballantyne was elected as the first President.
After some discussion it was decided that the Club would meet on the first Monday of each month – beginning punctually at 3:00 p.m. and lasting for one hour. It was suggested that time should not be wasted in private conversation or discussion among the members. Meetings would be at the homes of the members by invitation and they should be kept as informal as possible and therefore no refreshments should be offered. The annual fee was set at $3 and the number of members was limited to 20. A few subjects were proposed as suitable for discussion at meetings: winter tricks; fertilizers; sprays and fumigation; shrubs and birds; rock gardens and pools; native plants and wild flower preservation; lilies and orchids; and putting the garden to bed. This list could be added to by the executive and read out at meetings to enable members to choose a topic for the next meeting. All this took place at the first meeting and very soon new members joined, raising the membership to 25.
At the next meeting a name was discussed. Diggers and Weeders was suggested but it was not approved until the following Spring. At the second meeting “winter tricks” was the topic and Mrs. Mercur suggested using grape hyacinth pods, leek heads, and hop elm for winter bouquets, some of them to be dipped in white paint. Mrs. Ballantyne brought Bermuda air plants which only require pinning to a wall. Mrs. Mercur also encouraged the Club to cooperate with the Community Garden League of Greater Montreal, a suggestion which was heartily endorsed. By the Spring, the Diggers and Weeders were already reaching out to two other garden clubs: the Junior League and Laurentian Club which were invited to attend the first public meeting in February, 1933 at Victoria Hall, at a cost of 25 cents for non-members. A large and enthusiastic group attended. Topics for meetings included Canadian wild flowers (with slides), the use of sprays and fertilizers and visits to various gardens. When visited on Bishop Street, Mrs Findlay told of her successes and failures in changing a city back yard into a miniature garden containing rock plants, wild flowers and bulbs. Even in the first year there were projects: a library of useful books, a list of which was given to members, contributions of seeds for the Community Garden, and the planting of flowers suitable for cutting to be given to hospitals.
Over the years, the Club undertook many activities. One that required a great deal of time and effort was a garden at the Queen Mary Veterans’ Hospital, laid out by Rose Dunsmore. Sarah Stevenson, describing a scrapbook kept from 1951 – 1974 writes,
I can tell you how she did it, because I watched her lay out a garden at the Lethbridge Rehabilitation Centre to which the Diggers and Weeders contributed $100 in 1974. I was really ignorant when I picked Rose up early one morning because she had forgotten her blue wool. I wondered if she was going to knit on the way to the Lethbridge but, arriving at a small field beside the Centre, I watched as Rose laid out the garden paths and flower beds outlined by stakes and blue knitting wool. When she had finished, the entire plan was obvious and the results of both the Veterans’ and the Rehab Centre gardens are there in the scrapbook.
A garden therapist organized the patients to work in the gardens, the Diggers and Weeders provided money for plants and seeds and the Junior League Garden Club provided tools. Many members worked in the garden, some going twice a week to “dig and weed”.
In the Scrapbook there is a 1967 photograph of our first contribution to “Noel at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts” – a bare-branched tree displaying all the gifts in the carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Hester Ross, the mother of Wendy Mackenzie, was President at the time and Betty Piper, Marjorie Close, Barbara Tucker and Nonie Brodeur were also contributors. For many years Club members decorated the lobby of the Montreal General Hospital at Christmas and provided and cared for plants in the various waiting rooms of the hospital.
Through the years, the Club has been involved in many projects. We looked after the garden at St. Margaret’s Home at the corner of Sherbrooke Street and St. Laurent until it moved to its new location. We then began to care for the garden at Prospect Belvedere House on St. Catherine Street, a project we carry on to this day.
Flower shows have been especially important. The Festival of Flowers held at St. Andrew’s United Church on Cote St. Antoine Road in 1973 and 1975 were tremendous undertakings which brought great pleasure to many people. For our 50th anniversary in 1982 we held a flower show at the Forest and Stream Club and in 1992 for our 60th anniversary we had a wonderful Art in Bloom show for which each member chose a favourite art work and made an arrangement to complement it. Trips have been a major interest, with many short field trips to view gardens, including several trips of 3 or 4 days in Canada and the Eastern U.S. as well as a trip to England.
As we look back at our history, it is interesting to see how little our interests have changed over the years. Getting to work in the garden and making beautiful arrangements with flowers remain our primary interests. Our many fascinating speakers and workshop leaders continue to bring us new knowledge. As Mrs. Mercur said at the first meeting, garden clubs have great usefulness in stimulating interest in gardens, in valuable exchanges of hints and experience, and in arranging competitions or small flower shows. The Diggers and Weeders have certainly borne this out.