By Erika Webb
Members of the 10 circles, which comprise the Garden Club of DeLand, had plenty to discuss March 6.
April is going to be a busy month for the bloom boosters.
The 52nd Annual Pageant of Crosses will be presented on Palm Sunday, April 13, at the Garden Club of DeLand Clubhouse, 865 E. Alabama Ave. from noon-3 p.m.
The floral-arrangement crosses depict Holy Week using seasonal hymns for inspiration, according to the club's website.
"A Garden Salute to Wounded Veterans" tour of six distinctive DeLand gardens April 26 and 27 will feature "dramatic landscaping, exotic plants, fragrant flowers, tranquil garden rooms, charming potting sheds, old-time vegetable gardens, intriguing pathways, unique statuary, lovely gazebos, incredible Koi ponds, colorful chickens and so much more," the website states. Each garden reflects the homeowners' gardening techniques, creative designs and love of gardening. The gardens at the Garden Club also will be on view.
The individual gardens will honor a branch of the military and feature the names of Garden Club members and their spouses who have served their country.
Refreshments will be served, and "lively entertainment" provided by eight musical acts is planned. Plants, garden treasures, vegetables, gourds, jewelry and timeless treasures will be available for purchase. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions.
Tour Co-Chair Karen Marusin said typically every two years - with each new administration - the club organizes a major fundraiser. The Garden Salute, however, will be the first one since 2008 when the fundraising tour was at former Stetson President H. Douglas Lee's stately home -- now the home of Stetson President Dr. Wendy Libby - at the edge of the university campus.
Proceeds from ticket sales for the tour will benefit, in part, Veterans Farm in Jacksonville. Veterans Farm is a program aimed at providing horticultural therapy to and teaching post-911 wounded veterans about sustainable agriculture.
Ms. Marusin has been a club member for more than 12 years. The former career event planner is not big on digging up dirt, but she thoroughly enjoys the numerous other aspects and benefits of membership.
These big events are being organized, in addition to myriad other projects and causes that are ongoing in the 220-member club.
Circles, like wheels, exist to keep things moving along in orderly fashion.
A general meeting of the entire garden club is held once monthly. Individual circles meet at different times, originate and organize various projects.
Each circle is defined by a flower. They include Blue Sage, Firecracker, Magnolia, Marigold, Morning Glory Pansy, Rose, Sparkleberry and Sunflower.
And over the years, like the flowers themselves, some circles have faded; in their places new ones have sprouted and grown.
Local historian and author Louise Caccamise has been a garden club member since the late 1960s. She has been a member of several circles.
Mrs. Caccamise wrote A Quest for Beauty: A History of The Garden Club of DeLand, Florida, Inc., from 1927-1997.
Last month, she spoke at the general meeting, shedding light on the deep roots of the organization, which formed as part of the Woman's Club of DeLand in 1925 and then branched off to become its own entity in 1927.
Mina Shotwell Worstall led the movement to start the club and was its first president.
The women realized early on that fundraisers would be an integral purpose.
Two circles grew to four after the first 10 years.
In 1927, fundraising started with the Garden Market at Bandshell Park on Saturdays across Indiana Avenue from the old courthouse.
"They sold flowers, seeds and plants in booths and later added shrubs," Mrs. Caccamise noted. "This eventually evolved into an annual plant sale. In the 1950s they started a Christmas Mart each year and added crafts."
For many years, the group was nomadic, using the Commercial Club building -- a precursor to the DeLand Chamber of Commerce -- the courthouse rotunda, the high school gymnasium and the National Guard Armory for flower shows.
Use of the old vine-covered pump house in Bandshell Park -- where the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center now stands -- was offered by the city for use as the Garden Center.
"At a garden club meeting in 1989, Blanche Bicklehaupt, a Sandspur Circle member, recalled the pump house as a round red brick building with bookshelves all around the walls underneath the windows," Mrs. Caccamise said.
There, the headquarters remained until it was torn down in the 1960s.
Fundraising efforts for the current building commenced in 1949 and continued until 1964, culminating with a bazaar at College Plaza Shopping Center. Rose Circle was awarded a silver bowl that day for being the largest contributor of all circles.
"Throughout the years, home and garden tours featured different sections of DeLand, all of which emphasized the natural beauty in the area," Mrs. Caccamise said.
The 1989 beautification of DeLand's Amtrak Station, under the chairmanship of Karen Hall and Gayle Jenkins was dubbed "All Aboard" and won one of 10 national Exxon Civic Development awards in 1990. The project was written up in Florida Gardener magazine and won $500 from the National Council of Garden Clubs.
Mrs. Caccamise started the newsletter, originally called Garden Notes, in 1993. Today, with Valarie Seinfeld as editor, The Gabby Gardener is a model for all garden club newsletters, Mrs. Caccamise said.
Perhaps one of the most widely appreciated ongoing projects of the garden club is the downtown planting, featuring hundreds of flowers along Woodland Boulevard. The circles take turns tending them and in 2002 Barbara Stockhausen, a member of Morning Glory Circle, was awarded Mainstreet DeLand's Volunteer of the Year for her many hours spent weeding and trimming the plants, Mrs. Caccamise noted.
Sunflower Park, also downtown, was created by the Sunflower Circle, and in June of 1998, the club dedicated its Sensory Garden, "a special garden for handicapped people to enjoy," at Bill Dreggors Park on North Stone Street.
Treasurer and 30-year member Karen Hall was the driving force behind the Sensory Garden, Mrs. Caccamise said.
"She has done so much for the Garden Club through the years," Mrs. Caccamise added. "She was in charge of Fun With Flowers and has shared her talent and love of flower-arranging with many and has worked on many different aspects of the club work."
Traditionally, Christmas has been marked by special club functions --Kringle Mingle at members' homes in the 1990s, and fundraisers such as the 2011 Holiday Happenings, featuring Christmas items, the sale of which contributed to the landscaping of local organizations, according to Mrs. Caccamise.
That's just the tip of the spade when it comes to all the nearly 90-year-old organization and associated members, too numerous to mention, have done to further beautify DeLand and aid countless causes.
Presently all hands are on deck at the clubhouse, where the landscaping is being improved and a hardscape plan is being executed.
First Vice President Ruth Moorman is another member, who doesn't necessarily dig gardening. A tennis racket is in her hand more often than a rake. If you take one look at her yard you'll see her thumb is not green, she said.
While the retired Volusia County human resources manager truly appreciates the beauty created by others her 30-year membership experience has been enhanced by the human interaction.
"I love the people," Mrs. Moorman said.
Visit www.gardenclubofdeland.org for more information.