More than flowers

Published 10:18 pm Thursday, June 3, 2010

Some people look at gardening as a hobby, a way to pass the time during retirement or an outdoor pursuit with a remarkable ability to relax and restore the minds of those who participate in it

For Debbie Chappell, though, gardening is an exercise in community-building.

Chappell’s great aunts helped establish the Suffolk Garden Club in 1940, during World War II, and she has been active in that club for more than 20 years.

The Suffolk Garden Club is one of the eight garden clubs that comprise the Suffolk Council of Garden Clubs, which held its semi-annual spring luncheon on May 12.

Between the clubs, the council represents more than 250 members and was established to coordinate the efforts of the different organizations in civic projects, to cooperate with agencies that protect and conserve natural resources and to encourage civic beauty.

“We’re about being civic minded and teaching the next generation to value nature and its beauty,” Chappell said. “We want to stimulate and encourage the love and knowledge of gardening to young people.”

Club members engage floral arranging, exchange plants and gardening tips and participate in civic projects.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot from other members, and while I’m not a tree hugger I believe in protecting our native plants and encourage the education of preservation in our community.”

While many projects are fundraisers, a beatification project the council has been working on since 1998 is the Crape Myrtle Project.

What began as a planting of 38 Crape Myrtles led to approximately 1,200 of the trees being planted throughout the city.

“When I was president of the council, I started the project,” Chappell said. “For any donation, we would plant a tree in memory or honor of a loved one.”

Crape myrtles are known as the “100-bloom tree” because they bloom for 100 days, she said.

“They have a frilly, pretty bloom,” Chappell said. “It has such a pretty texture to it, and in the winter the bark of the tree is just beautiful.”

In addition to its beautification projects, the Council has made donations to the Albert G. Horton Jr. Veterans Cemetery in support of Wreaths Across America project for 2009 and 2010 and to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in support of its Thanksgiving meal community outreach program.

The Council also participates in the Suffolk Clean Air and Community committee, was represented at the dedication of the Obici Healthcare Foundation and assisted with the Suffolk Historical Society Candle Light Tour.

The Council will host the fall Tidewater District, Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs luncheon meeting to be held this September at the downtown Hilton.