It's true that there are, yes, real garden clubs where serious-minded men and women sit around discussing black spot and the latest trend in hybrid tea roses. They're said to florish in England and in various upper-class communities along the various Gold Coasts, and I haven't much experience with them. Then, there are the others.

Women's garden clubs, and their ilk, were a feature of American life from the Thirties on through mid-century -- patterned after the reading groups and Bible societies of the Victorian era, they existed only tangentially to talk about gardens and gardening. The rest of their time and meetings tended to be split between consuming coffee and sweets, planning and holding Ladies' Lunches, Bridge parties, and fund-raising, mangling parlimentary procedure, gossip, and sniping at each other. Nonetheless, garden clubs managed to be a major force in the conservation movement, a percursor of today's environmentalism, provided support and a social outlet to stay-at-home housewives, and aided many public beautification efforts.

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