A River Runs Through It Garden Club (ARRTI) was the brainchild of Lois Haslam and had its beginnings when she brought together a small group of like-minded people in1997 at her home on Scrabble Hill. These people were not only dedicated gardeners they also wanted to work toward beautifying and contributing to their towns of Waterbury, Waterbury Center, and Duxbury. Not only were they folks who enjoyed good food, wine, and socializing they were folks who wanted to continue learning about gardening. These interests and intentions coalesced into the following:
Mission: ARRTI seeks to promote pride in our community by enhancing our living spaces through gardening projects in our parks and public areas, along our roadways, and within our own neighborhoods and gardens.
Purpose: To share gardening techniques, plants, workshops, and community enhancement projects within a relaxed and personally enjoyable setting, each of us contributing equally to the ARRTI community of like-minded enthusiasts.
During those first few years the club was establishing its footing, both within the community and financially. Our annual plant sale (now a Waterbury tradition) promoted the distribution of hardy plants to the community, supported continuing education for members which focused on gardening, and importantly allowed us to support gardening in the community as well. We furthered our community dedication by participating in Waterbury Community Days and the Waterbury Home and Garden show sponsored by the Rotary. In 2000, we embarked upon our flagship project, landscaping a triangular lot, at the intersection of two main roads entering the town. This launched what has been for the past 20 years, our largest endeavor: the establishment and maintenance of several Waterbury community gardens, including the Main Street Fire Station, Elm Street, Dac Rowe Park garden barrels, Waterbury Center gazebo, Duxbury town office, and Bidwell Lane.
As our projects grew, so did our membership, which we capped at 25 to still be able to have our meetings in each other’s homes. Our monthly meetings almost always consist of a wonderful potluck (many of our members also love to cook), camaraderie, and presentations from various speakers. There have been dozens of speakers touching on such subjects as beekeeping, attracting birds to our yards, as well as specific gardening tips. Each year we also have a summer party, holiday centerpiece-making workshop, and a business meeting. Over the years these interactions have led to many lasting friendships.
The early 2000s also saw the increased success of our plant sale and therefore our budget. We used those funds to pay speakers, but we also wanted to promote knowledge about gardening in the community, especially among the younger generation. We began with a small scholarship at Harwood Union High School for a graduating student who was going to study a field related to gardening, such as botany or ecology. We continued this for many years; the amount increased to $500, however it ended in 2013 due to lack of applicants. This provided the opportunity to step back and reevaluate which led to funding projects (rather than individuals) at our local schools, with grants of $500. Throughout the years grants have been awarded to a Crossett Brook Middle School sustainability project and greenhouse, the Thatcher Brook Primary School Butterfly Garden, and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. We also provided a picnic table to the area at the town library, adjacent to the Children’s Word Garden and Book Garden.
2015 was the year that brought perhaps the biggest change to our club, as we dismantled
the triangle lot at the town’s entry in preparation for the construction of a roundabout in the same location. Planting and maintaining this triangular lot had been much work for the club, but it was an initiative enjoyed working on together and one which was greatly appreciated by the community. We loved working and gardening with people honking, waving, and offering, “great job” as they drove past. As always, it was good to be appreciated. The ARRTI-maintained gardens in town now have signs designating them as such, so the community will be aware of our work throughout the town.
As in all things, change is the one constant, especially during this year of 2020 with Covid-19 and construction throughout Waterbury’s downtown area. We curtailed much of our hands-on gardening efforts due to these factors, but we look forward to our revamped downtown and see where we can best work our magic. Even so, we have stayed connected through a series of socially distanced field trips, including apple picking and even an award-winning scavenger hunt of our historical Waterbury district. Because members come and go over the years, we always look forward to new members joining us. All that is needed is a desire to contribute, a willingness to dig in the dirt, and the ability to have fun while doing so! ARRTI has proven itself to be a resilient and adaptable group in the changed world of 2020.