Program chair Mary Jane Haley welcomes guest speaker Kim White during the March Garden Club meeting.

BY VALERIE HARDY | Photos by Carolina Menapace

For nearly a century, The Garden Club of Downers Grove has been growing plants – and a community of gardeners. Established by members of the Downers Grove Women’s Club in February 1927, it “isn’t a stand-alone club. It is part of a national organization [The National Garden Clubs, Inc.], broken down by states, and then broken by districts within the club,” explained the club’s publicity chairperson, Sandy Koutouvidis.

The Garden Club is rooted in its members’ shared passion for gardening, appreciation of nature, interest in conservation, and desire to help beautify the community. It is an educational, social, and working club, Koutouvidis said.

The club officially meets seven times per year, usually on the third Monday of the month, at American Legion Post 80 in Downers Grove (4000 Saratoga Avenue). Meetings run 12:30-3 p.m. and include a social hour and brief general meeting followed by an hour-long program.

The last meeting featured Kim White of the DuPage Monarch Project. The club’s program chairperson, Mary Jane Haley, said White’s presentation, “which included the mapping locations of Monarchs, was very interesting. I learned that we can participate in the tagging of butterflies to help follow their travels.”

Gary Robbins, the club’s awards chairperson, also enjoyed the monarch presentation, and he said all of the club’s meetings are “not only informative but fun. Plus, we eat well at the meetings!”

Members sign up for one meeting each year to bring in food to share. “All gain from the community, and all give to the community,” Koutouvidis said, which is something that makes the club special.

The club does not hold meetings during the summer, but its members remain active. In the warmer months, members tend local gardens, such as the garden at the William L. Gregg House Museum in Westmont and two gardens at the Main Street Cemetery in downtown Downers Grove.

Each summer, the club also hosts garden walks at people’s homes in the area and organizes a bus trip for members to visit various destinations in the greater Midwest with notable gardens and garden centers. The club also plans annual events in honor of Arbor Day and National Garden Week.

With all the club has to offer, those interested in joining but lacking in the green thumb department need not worry. In fact, the club’s president, Barb Fashing, said, “I do not have a green thumb at all!  People have looked at my yard and said, ‘You’re in a gardening club?’”

While she still considers herself a novice gardener, Fashing’s gardening knowledge and skills have grown since she joined the club in 2009. “I’ve made a lot of great friends in the club… and I learned some gardening,” she said.


“All gain from the community, and all give to the community.”

– Sandy Koutouvidis, publicity chair for The Garden Club of Downers Grove


For Fashing and many others, building relationships and learning from other gardeners are among the greatest benefits of Garden Club membership. Haley appreciates that clubs members “work together and learn from each other.” She added that the club’s members are “friendly and lifelong learners when it comes to plants and gardens.”

Club members not only learn gardening tips and techniques from each other but also via more formal educational opportunities. Koutouvidis explained, “Being a member of the club, you can go to classes and get certified to be a master gardener.”

Most courses run through the club’s parent organization, The Garden Clubs of Illinois, Inc. Fashing said, “There are all kinds of good horticultural and environmental topics, like ‘how to be a judge at a flower show,’ and there are classes for gardeners of all levels.”

The range of educational and experiential opportunities mirrors the club’s membership – there are novices as well as master gardeners in the group. While the club meets and does much of its hands-on work in Downers Grove, local residency is not a requirement for membership. Fashing, a Cicero resident, is proof.

The club also welcomes members of all genders. Robbins was the only man in the group when he joined four years ago, but “everyone put me at ease and was very welcoming,” he said. “There are now three of us (men), and I would like to welcome more men.”

Expanding general membership is always a club priority, and this is particularly true as its 100th anniversary nears. Though the club’s centennial is not until 2027, a committee is already planning for it. “It will probably be a whole-year celebration,” Koutouvidis said. “We will have a big event for our annual fundraiser.”

The yearly fundraising event supports the club’s scholarship program. The Garden Club of Downers Grove provides scholarships to students attending The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and The College of DuPage to study horticulture or another environmental discipline.

The fundraiser is typically a luncheon held the Monday before Thanksgiving. Fashing explained that it usually features a “sip and shop,” where attendees can purchase crafts, baked goods, raffle tickets, and more, followed by a demonstration on flower arranging or a similar program or presentation.

Members and nonmembers are invited to the fundraiser (tickets are $55 per person), but prospective members are also welcome to attend any of the club’s monthly meetings free of charge. “You don’t have to have an invitation or know anyone there,” Koutouvidis said. “Just walk right in.” Annual dues for members are $25.

Board members of the Garden Club of Downers Grove gather at a recent meeting.