By Karen Loewen

A partnership between the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) and the Steinbach & Area Garden Club (SAGC) began in 2006, at a time when our Garden Club was at a crossroads. We were in need of a new venue for our club meetings and were considering using a meeting room at MHV. During that time Al Hamm, who was then the MHV President, contacted us with an interesting partnership proposal. If Garden Club volunteers would take on the task of looking after the gardens at MHV, the Garden Club would then be given the opportunity to use the MHV facility for meetings at no charge. In the last seven years, this partnership has proven to be beneficial for both parties. It's a wonderful example of two organizations working together for the benefit of the whole community and the thousands of visitors that come here from around the world. Visiting horticultural organizations are impressed with this partnership and are envious of our meeting venue.

We began in the multipurpose room, which immediately became too small as our membership rapidly began to grow. So we moved into the banquet hall, and this room has served our purposes beautifully as our membership increased from 12 to nearly 150 members, representing Steinbach and 18 surrounding communities.

Approximately 80 members are present at each meeting! We have also hosted several Gardener's Dessert Evenings here as well, packing out the room with gardeners from across Manitoba.

How has the Steinbach & Area Garden Club reciprocated? Most garden clubs adopt a community service project in addition to club activities, and SAGC is no exception. The Mennonite Heritage Village needed our services, no question; however, would our members co-operate and volunteer? Could we maintain our commitment long term? It was a leap of faith for both the Garden Club and MHV. However, seven years later we continue to maintain the gardens, enjoying interaction with gardeners from many countries and answering their questions.

The approach to the main building was an expanse of weed-infested grass - not a flower in sight! We began gradually, every year replacing more “grass” with new shrubs; perennials such as peonies, daylilies and hostas; and colorful red geraniums. Of course, many tulips were also planted here and at the windmill, in recognition of our Dutch heritage. Local garden centres generously contributed many plants. Gardens at the rear of the building and other areas on the grounds were developed, and every summer many hanging baskets and containers display colorful flowers.

All this must be maintained throughout the season, so spring and fall prep, planting and cleanup days are scheduled, and dozens of volunteers weed, groom and water the plants from May until September. Last summer, 61 of our club members volunteered for a total of 556 hours to fulfill our commitment to our community service project – not a small feat.

Club members Elsie Kathler, project co-ordinator, and Louise Hiebert, volunteer co-ordinator, are to be commended for their tremendous contribution. We are grateful!

I'd like to thank the staff at the Mennonite Heritage Village for their support and encouragement while we work in the gardens, as well as their generosity in attending to our needs during club activities. It continues to be a pleasure!

Please visit www.sagardenclub.com for much more information about the Garden Club and its activities.

About the Author

Gary is responsible for the overall management of MHV. Guiding the staff, informing the board, and networking with officials, volunteers, corporate sponsors, individual donors and other guests. He has a business diploma and a MA in Global Studies from Providence Theological Seminary. With his family he did humanitarian work for 18 years in Asia, including being a CEO of a Compost Enterprise in China. He loves to discuss the Mennonite story and how it is relevant in our world. Learn more about the MHV.

Steinbachonline.com is Steinbach's only source for community news and information such as weather and classifieds.

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