Local Grower’s Club Reflects a Perennial Passion

The long legacy of the Diggers Garden Club

Seventy-two years ago, a group of Robbinsdale women took up First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory garden initiative by founding their own garden club. While there has always been a core group of gardeners to pass the torch (or heirloom tomato seeds, as the case may be) on to a new generation of gardeners, the organization’s history chronicles the ebbs and flows of popular interest in horticulture across the decades.

The aftereffects of World War II rationing, and the desire of GI wives to beautify their homes as their husbands returned from overseas, buoyed membership throughout the 1950s, but interest slowly waned over the subsequent decades. By the turn of the century, membership fell to a record low, finally plummeting to just six members in 2005.

Over the past decade, the long-lived Diggers Garden Club has witnessed a veritable renaissance. Increased awareness of healthy eating, paired with escalating food prices, has significantly bolstered the head count. Now with 85 members, including men and women of all ages, Diggers is the largest city garden club in the state.

“When people contact the federated association about clubs in their area offering something specific, [ours] always comes up,” says Barbara Anderson, the club’s current president. Anderson attributes the club’s draw to its diverse programming as well as the high caliber of its guest lecturers and regular members. “We are an active group with lots of volunteering opportunities and interesting educational programs. Our members include flower specialists, flower and horticultural show judges, as well as master gardeners,” she says.

The Diggers’ year-round programs are completely supported by the club’s own fundraising efforts. Programs include winter-time visits to Orchids Limited in Plymouth, garden tours, a holiday poinsettia fundraiser, an annual flower show, as well as the club’s main fundraising event: the plant sale held each June. This event is a rare opportunity for gardening enthusiasts to purchase locally raised plants at bargain prices, as well as teacup gardens, succulents, wreaths, birdhouses and many other handmade crafts.

This month, you may spot the club’s volunteers (and their vibrant flourishes) around local venues, including City Hall and the Robbinsdale Police Station; or along Highway 81 and Broadway, where they tend the container plants. Anderson oversees and participates in the full spectrum of beautification committees, but her favorite has been looking after the Robbinsdale Historical Library grounds. “[The project] is constantly evolving. Sometimes, what you think will work doesn’t [and] what you think won’t, does. It’s a lot of work, but [it’s] also so rewarding.”


Agnes Wright, the Diggers Garden Club's second president, and one of her floral arrangements, 1956. (Photo courtesy of the Diggers club)

She has been involved with the Diggers since 2009, but agriculture has always been in her life. “I come from a family of gardeners, so I came in knowing the basics. What I’ve most appreciated is learning about plants I didn’t have access to when I was growing up,” she says, referring to her burgeoning fascination with ornamental plants. “Did you know there are over 3,000 varieties of Hosta? You can spend a lifetime studying them, literally. There are new [cultivars] every year!”

Like Anderson, Plymouth resident Betty Beck comes from a family of farmers. She spent her childhood summers canning vegetables in western Wisconsin. After retiring from her career in nursing, she was eager to return to those roots. She joined the Diggers in 2008 and has been a member ever since. In June, she will become the president of the Federated Garden Clubs of Minnesota, the parent organization overseeing all of the city-based chapters.

Through her participation in the Diggers Garden Club, Beck has developed an interest in so-called “compact” farming methods. With a considerable plot of land at her disposal, her newfound hobby stems from curiosity rather than necessity. She has experimented with methods like vertical gardening and raised bed gardening, as well as what she terms “the hot topic of the past few years,” straw-bale gardening. “I’ve gotten pretty good at it,” she says. Last June, her gardens were featured as part of the Friends of the Plymouth Library Garden Benefit Tour. Beck fielded questions and demonstrated her methods for cultivating tomatoes, beans and peas within a confined area. “People are always surprised to see how much you can grow in such a small space.”

Beck is also studying to become a certified flower show judge. “I’m not a flower expert… yet,” she says. She is excited to participate once again in the planning of the Diggers’ flower show, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in July. Beck also puts her floral design skills to use in designing centerpieces and arrangements for her home and her friends’ homes.

“Gardening is evolving,” Beck observes. “People are very mindful of their schedules now; they want things they can get done right now.” The desire for project-oriented programming is reflected in the club’s selection of guest speakers and topics for discussion at the monthly meetings, with DIY-focused presentations such as last month’s “Making a Garden Fountain Demo” by Laney Skeel.

“You’re guaranteed to learn something,” says Anderson. The social hour that concludes each meeting is an occasion to seek expertise from the club’s many veteran gardeners. “People are always bringing in their problems, their plants, their pests,” Anderson says, adding inquiries are usually well rewarded, with a range of tricks, quick fixes and recipes for homemade remedies.

Free and open to the public, meetings are held the third Wednesday of each month at the Robbinsdale Public Safety Building. An opportunity to consult a green thumb about your lackluster tomato crop, meetings are also a great place to learn about joining the Diggers. Membership is open to gardening aficionados and neophytes alike and costs just $15 a year.

Plymouth member Betty Beck, left, and Diggers’ president Barbara Anderson.

Upcoming Meetings:

April 15 “New and Interesting Annuals and Perennials” with guest speaker Gail Soens of Bailey Nursery
7 p.m.
Robbinsdale Public Safety Building, 4101 Hubbard Ave. N., Robbinsdale

May 20 “Revitalizing Your Garden” with guest speaker Kate Netwal, Hennepin County Master Gardener
7 p.m.
Robbinsdale Public Safety Building, 4101 Hubbard Ave. N., Robbinsdale

Find more information at robbinsdalediggers.com.