Harvest League Garden Club

Harvest League Garden Club members Jean Naeger, left, and Claudia Counsell at the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker in the Austin-Pitcairn Roadside Park between Herculaneum and Crystal City.

The Harvest League Garden Club, made up of members from all around Jefferson County, is getting ready to gear up its activities, now that COVID-19 cases are on the decline and people are starting to return to their pre-pandemic lives.

One of the group’s ongoing projects is tending to a small garden at the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker at Austin-Pitcairn Roadside Park between Herculaneum and Crystal City, and the club members recently gathered there for a meeting and a little gardening.

“We met May 10 and worked on the garden,” club member Jean Naeger said. “We had fairly many show up. The work went pretty quick.”

Blue Star Memorial Highways, which pay tribute to those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, began in 1944 when the New Jersey State Council of Garden Clubs beautified a stretch of U.S. Hwy. 22 and the idea spread nationally. The program’s parent organization is National Garden Clubs Inc., according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highways Administration website.

The Harvest League Garden Club has maintained the garden at Austin-Pitcairn Roadside Park since May 2017.

In addition to the marker and garden, the small roadside park features some picnic benches, including at least one that is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.

The park is named after Moses Austin and John Pitcairn Jr., early Jefferson County industrialists.

The Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri list 106 Blue Star Memorial markers, and the Austin-Pitcairn Roadside Park was the seventh marker placed in Missouri on Oct. 12, 1953, according to the Harvest League Garden Club.

Naeger and Claudia Counsell, the group’s treasurer and a past president of the organization, recently got together to discuss their horticultural-themed organization, and both said club members are looking forward to once again meeting monthly.

“We normally meet once a month at Karsch’s (Village Market) in Barnhart, in their lunchroom, but not during the pandemic,” said Naeger, 69, of Cedar Hill. “During the pandemic, when we’ve met, we’ve met outside in parks.”

“We’d like to start meeting monthly again soon,” said Counsell, 67, of Bloomsdale, who was among the club’s founding members in 1999.

Counsell said the club’s monthly gatherings typically combine a gardening or educational experience, along with a chance to socialize.

“We use it as a sharing time of what’s happening in everyone’s lives,” Counsell said.

“People will share about upcoming events for flower sales, horticulture sales. Absolutely, you make new friends. We come from all directions.”

Naeger said the club doesn’t really have a home base.

“We have people from Cedar Hill, Festus, Imperial, St. Louis,” she said. “Another is from Herculaneum. We’re really primarily from all over Jefferson County.”

The club currently has all female members, but that is not by design, the women said.

“There’s no men,” Counsell said. “We don’t exclude them; they just don’t join. But, a lot of our husbands participate in our projects. They’ll help out.”

Counsell said the club considers project requests.

“We’ll get invitations to restructure and give guidance on gardens,” she said. “We’ve worked with the Festus Public Library at their old location. We’ve worked with the Jefferson County Library’s Windsor Branch in Barnhart. We’ve done the Gov. Dunklin gravesite in Herculaneum.”

Some projects are more involved than others, the women said.

“Sometimes, you have to start from the ground up,” Counsell said.

Naeger said the club tries to accommodate its members’ schedules when planning projects.

“We work on projects usually during an evening during the week so people can participate after work,” she said. “We’ll usually work for a couple of hours.”

The group isn’t all about work, though. Some meetings focus strictly on education or entertainment, the women said.

“We like to promote the love of nature, gardening and education,” Counsell said.

“We’ll do field trips,” Naeger said. “We went to a daylily place in Kimmswick.”

The women said the club welcomes newcomers, adding that club members join with various levels of gardening experience.

“We take all levels,” said Counsell, who had quite a bit of gardening experience when she joined.

“I’ve enjoyed gardening all my life. I gardened with my grandpa. I still have his shovel. Nobody uses it but me.”

Naeger, on the other hand, was a novice gardener when she joined the club about seven years ago.

Club members pay dues, but do not need to meet any participation requirements.

“You participate as much as you want,” Counsell said.

Unlike many other social organizations, an aging membership has not been a problem, Naeger said.

“We have several mother and daughter combos. So, that helps keep us young,” she said.

Club members typically use plants from their own gardens when working on a project.

“We are very resourceful,” Counsell said. “Gardeners know how to get supplies. We transplant.”

“These come out of somebody’s garden,” Naeger said.

For more information about the group, visit the Harvest League Garden Club page on Facebook.

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