12304771853?profile=RESIZE_710x12304773497?profile=RESIZE_400xBoynton Beach Garden Club members decorated the 85th- birthday cake with leaves and blooms; dressed up the Boynton Hills park with a new sign and landscaping; and provided plants as gifts for the celebration’s raffle. Photos by Tao Woolfe/The Coastal Star

By Tao Woolfe

Linda Anderson, president of the Boynton Beach Garden Club, fretted about how to condense 85 years of accomplishments into a short speech.

Because they rarely rest on their laurels, garden club members are busy every week with myriad activities and civic responsibilities — and it has always been thus.

Anderson, clad in a white sundress dappled with peonies and roses, decided to allow the club’s historian to steal the show — which was held at the First Presbyterian Church of Boynton Beach on Nov. 14.

After welcoming the audience and speaking briefly about the club’s growth and enduring values, Anderson stepped aside to let Sonja Zalutko, the club’s historian, plant rows of colorful images in the minds of the 50 or so audience members.

Zalutko spoke about the club’s formation in 1938 by Bertha Williams Chadwell, and its mission to “encourage home and civic beautification.”

Many of the club’s efforts, she said, can still be seen throughout the city.

The club has planted notable trees — including two Ceiba pentandras, of the kapok family, that stood in the west yard of Boynton Beach High School. One of those trees is still in the yard of what is now the Arts & Cultural Center. The other tree was moved across the street.

In another beautification project, the garden club worked on creating a proper cemetery for the city, Zalutko said.

“Members worked tirelessly for many years clearing, planting and beautifying the grounds,” she said. “In 1952 the cemetery located at the southwest corner of Woolbright and Seacrest, which was presented and turned over to the city of Boynton Beach.“

During World War II, when Federal Highway was widened, 2 miles of that road were tended by garden club members, who also donated books on plants and gardening to the city’s first public library.

And in more recent years, the club has created public gardens that everyone can enjoy.

“A large component of our service to the community is a maintenance of two public gardens in Boynton Beach,” Zalutko said.

“In 2010 the club was asked to take on the responsibility for a garden plot on the east side of the Schoolhouse Children’s Museum on Ocean Avenue. Over many years of labor in love, a prized butterfly garden has brought pleasure to all that walk its path.”

In 2018, then-Mayor Stephen Grant asked the club to spruce up a small, damaged conservation area in the Boynton Hills neighborhood at Northwest Sixth Avenue and Seacrest Boulevard.

The former mayor attended the Nov. 14 luncheon. While Zalutko spoke about the club’s growing civic involvement, Grant looked through his cellphone photos to show other luncheon guests how time, and a hurricane, had affected the Boynton Hills neighborhood’s wilderness area.

It was wildly overgrown and the paint was peeling from the park’s white, wooden welcome sign. Another sign, announcing that the area was a community garden, lay broken on the weed-choked ground.

“You can see why I asked them to get involved,” Grant said.

And the garden club members relished the assignment, Zalutko reported.

Working alongside city parks and recreation employees, garden club members cleared hurricane-damaged trees and shrubs, defined planting areas using salvaged bricks, lined pathways with ferns and oyster plants, and replaced the welcome sign.

As their involvement deepened, the club members decided to go native.

“They introduced native plantings, including a Simpson’s stopper, the lovely beautyberry bush, the once-endangered coontie, wild coffee, aloe, vinca and croton,” Zalutko said.

Today, not only has the community garden been rejuvenated, the garden club is about to announce a new feature for Boynton Hills.

“The community garden is slowly being created into a small bird sanctuary for the neighborhood,” Zalutko said.

The unveiling will be held on Jan. 19.

Another commitment the garden club members enjoy annually is a post-Thanksgiving visit to veterans at an assisted living facility called Rustic Retreat. The garden club members bring poinsettias, doughnuts, magazines, books and puzzles they have collected for the veterans.

“We’re look forward to visiting Rustic Retreat,” Zalutko said.

Zalutko finished her history with a look at the future.

“We continue to work on our goals to expand the knowledge of gardening, cultivate an appreciation of floral arts, and realize beautification efforts in our community that impact our state and nation,” Zalutko said.

“We plant locally and think globally. We study, support and practice wise conservation measures, fight against pollution, and help protect our sensitive ecology in South Florida.”

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