By Luke Ferris Staff Reporter
One summer afternoon while working on flower boxes located on the South Bridge St. bridge, Jeanette Ongena, co-president of the DeWitt Millennium Garden Club, had a unique encounter. A man in a pickup truck stopped in the middle of the bridge and asked Ongena who she and the group were.
Ongena defined her group as the DeWitt Millennium Garden Club, a local volunteer group that plants and maintains eight different gardens across the DeWitt area. Then the man pulled out a $50 bill and handed it to Ongena.
“He said, ‘I own the office building just on the other side of the bridge, and I can guarantee that I have more business just because of the way you make the town look,’” Ongena said. “He said, ‘I just want to donate to your club and tell you how much I appreciate what you do for the city.’”
“It was so cool to have someone to do that and to take the time and the money to say ‘wow you really make a difference,’” Ongena said.
Whether recognized or not, the DeWitt Millennium Garden Club’s work in DeWitt makes it a more attractive area for residents and visitors alike.
Established in 2000, the 60-member club meets and organizes throughout the year but primarily does their “hands on” work in the spring and summer months.
Bill Fulmer, co-president of the club, said that the group works through committees, with each committee responsible for a garden in the area. The committees are led by chairman who communicate to members when and where they need to be available to work on the gardens.
“Typically we plan work so you can get it done in about an hour,” Fulmer said. “Sometimes in the early spring especially it might be two hours jobs at a time.”
The members communicate primarily through email but in the winter the group meets on the first thursday of every month. Fulmer said that throughout the summer the committees maintain the gardens every two weeks or once a month, depending on the needs of the gardens.
Funding for the flowers and gardening materials is partly from the club and the city.
“The city is a very definite partner with us, both city government and city workers,” Fullmer said.
The city has established budgets for flower projects including the boxes on the bridge and the large barrel flower containers in downtown. The city also waters the flowers located in downtown.
“We work really well with the city and I guess that’s not the case with every garden club,” Ongena said.
Ongena has talked to other clubs and they are usually surprised at the strong relationship that the DeWitt Millennium Garden Club has with the city.
“Everybody is very appreciative of the work they do and we’re glad they are so active in downtown and in the city,” said Dan Cross, city administrator of DeWitt.
Cross said that the city gives $3,000 to $3,500 per year to the garden club that helps invest in the overall attraction of the city.
“They probably are one of the most important groups for the downtown and other areas in the city,” Cross said. “I know that they have a very well known reputation.
“The city of DeWitt is just wonderful to work with,” Ongena said. “[We] have ultimately the same goal, to improve DeWitt.”
DeWitt’s aesthetic appearance in the summer months is enhanced by the club’s work and can lead to increase in business.
“[It’s] encouraging for people to want to be there and then of course if they’re there that gives them the opportunity to spend money in the area,” Ongena said.
The gardens have annual and perennial flowers. Annuals are needed to be bought each year, which is part of the club’s expenses. Perennial flowers don’t need to be replanted but need maintenance from year to year.
“Overall you want plants that will bring interest and variation throughout the year,” said Stefan Cerbin, PhD graduate research assistant of the MSU Department of Horticulture. “This can be done with flowers, leaves from both deciduous and conifers, bark, vegetation, and scaling the plantings to the site.”
Deciduous plants shed their leaves every fall season, while conifers stay throughout the entire year.
Fulmer said that the club uses a wide variety of trees and shrubs along with the flowers that are attractive to the eye. The club plants 500 to 1,500 daffodils around the area each year.
Daffodils are short-necked flowers that are easy to grow and come in a wide range of color according to Better Homes and Gardens. These plants bring interest and variation as well as cost efficient for the club.
Ongena said that some members of the club have greenhouses that sell to the public and help supply the club flowers. Otherwise the club seeks out other local sellers and Meijer or Walmart if there are good prices, due to the club’s limited budget.
“We try to get our plants locally as much as possible,” Ongena said.
The club recently added onto the “healing garden” at the DeWitt cemetery, which was the first garden made and maintained by the club.
The garden is frequently part of residents daily walk or run routines said Fulmer. This past fall the club placed large labyrinth in the garden and it will be open this summer once the new grass has grown in.
“When gardens are in full bloom, they’re just extremely attractive,” Fulmer said.
The club is always welcoming of new members, but Fulmer said that they won’t be adding anymore gardens to the club’s responsibilities anytime soon.
“We’re pretty strapped, we’re probably as far as we can go with our 60 members,” Fulmer said.
The clubs attends events in the area to promote the group, including the DeWitt Farmers Market and recent DeWitt Community Showcase.
“It’s fair to say that the people in [the DeWitt Millenium Garden Club] pretty much are there because they feel that plant life is extremely important,” Fulmer said.
Ongena said that residents and visitors come up throughout the year and thank the members for their dedication and work on the gardens.
The other gardens that the club is in charge of includes the sportspark sign garden at the city limits, the All Kids Playground gardens and the DeWitt Memorial Park garden.
“Any place that you go to that looks better or looks friendly, it makes you feel better and a place you want to be,” Ongena said.