If you are one of those people who want to try new things, consider a time warp and join a plant society.
Plant societies are clubs focused on sharing and learning about a specific genus or family of plants. Many plant societies were created in the early and middle 20th century. I’m no expert, but they have intrigued me since childhood. Many meet monthly at a local garden or church, and sometimes even in the woods. Societies often hold plant sales or swaps, host presenters, shows and tours, and raise funds. They share generations of knowledge with their new members.
My introduction to societies began in the ‘70s and ‘80s with my Aunt Patsy’s small catalogs from the American Orchid Society. I loved thumbing through them, looking at pictures of these exotic beauties. I dreamt of having a greenhouse so that I could grow unusual orchids. I bought my first orchids in Florida with my mom, when I was 8 or 9. I even remember that one was an orange vanda, and it never bloomed for me. Thus, the need to learn more from some experts.
As an adult, I have attended a few plant society meetings and presentations when specific topics lure me in. Finally, a few years ago I became a member of the Atlanta Orchid Society, and I do occasionally go to their meetings. One thing I’ve observed is the advanced median age of the membership, which is nice because I feel a bit youthful in them. I have wondered for years if and which societies will survive the digital age of the last 25 years.
Plant societies should survive because they are wonderful in so many ways. First, they really dovetail with the youthful ideologies of sustainability and saving the planet. Societies not only raise funds for and help maintain botanical gardens, they advocate for saving plant species and their ecosystems from extinction.
Second, the wealth of expert knowledge that people share in person is very different from something that you just read about. Touching, smelling and observing real plants can’t be replaced by the screen of a computer or paper in a book. The atmosphere can sometimes feel a little intense and can be intimidating, but in my experience, people are always friendly and happy to share their expertise.
Third, plant societies provide a wonderful social outlet. Being sociable with like-minded plant lovers is a healthy thing for many of us who have steered away from it over the last two years. People need your company as well, so in a way, you can help create a place that brings joy to others. Many societies need more members and all the better to include different generations, to keep them going. In the past, plant societies may have been viewed as a bit stodgy or only for retirees, but they really aren’t. They are for people that are curious, appreciate nature and beauty, and just love plants, sometimes obsessively (and there is beauty in that as well).
Don’t know where to start? There is something for anyone who has interest in plants or nature. Here are a few societies that are active in Atlanta. I am sure there are many more, so sorry if I missed mentioning your favorite one.
The Atlanta Orchid Society was founded in 1947 and usually meets at Atlanta Botanical Gardens the first Monday of the month. They have a fantastic annual show. I love the diversity in this family of plants and the passion in these meetings still surprises and delights me.
The Georgia Native Plant Society has a new Intown chapter as well. They have an annual conference and save native plants that are in harm’s way. I was introduced to this club just after college by Jeane Reeves and Sue Vrooman of the Atlanta History Center. I helped to save 50 or so toad trillium 30 years ago, which have since grown to a few hundred.
The Azalea Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society offers presentations about the dizzying diversity of azaleas. Past president Mike Bamford got Trees Atlanta more involved because of the native azalea species, but the club doesn’t discriminate. They grow and offer presentations on the popular Asian species as well as the European ones and the many hybrids.
The Georgia Perennial Plant Association hosts wonderful talks throughout the year, perfect for both experienced gardeners and new gardeners looking for knowledge and inspiration.
The American Hydrangea Society is one of the newest groups, formed in 1994. Who doesn’t love a hydrangea? I have heard so many great things about this group that I am tempted to get to a meeting. They give lots of help at the Atlanta History Center’s gardens in the care of their collection.
I am told that the Mushroom Club of Georgia is a very eclectic and physically active group with a lot of younger members. Collecting, cooking and eating make for a successful trio.
Whether you have been a gardener for decades or caught the house plants bug in the Covid years, make this year an exploration of plant societies. You will experience the curiosity and electricity that you felt the first time you discovered that plant that you instantly loved. Join a society now, and you are likely to have learned a lot about your latest favorite family of plants, met a slew of interesting people, and gained a healthy hobby by 2024.