If there is one thing that stands out when looking at a large collection of wildflower specimens it is their delicacy. Wildflowers are small, mostly tiny. They are exquisite but they are very economically put together. There is no over-the-top-ness in a wildflower. They may be breathtakingly beautiful but they are not the least bit showy or exuberant in the way that Dahlias or Orchids or Zinnias can be. They are giving their beauty and nectar to the world but they are making sure that they sustain themselves and survive at the same time. The Garden Section of the Anderson Valley Unity Club is made up of mostly women of a certain age that is marked by maturity, patience and a whole lot of life experience. It is striking to me how these guardians and promoters of wildflowers are very much like wildflowers themselves. The women of the Unity Club can see and appreciate the small details, the fragility and the strength of these small blooms, greens, trees and shrubs because they themselves embody these very same qualities. You can’t breeze through the Wildflower Show at top speed and really get anything out of it. It takes time and slowing down to appreciate these little wonders. There is a real feminine sweetness that fits with what flowers are. Robyn Harper should be mentioned here, as she was the Godmother of the show as she has been godmother of so many things in the valley. So many things seem to read: questions? Call Robyn where the buck stops. Also outgoing Unity Club President calm, cool and collected Janet Lombard tirelessly practical and ready to lend an immediate hand to remove obstacles of any kind.
Coming back to the show after Covid felt so very comforting and right. There were displays featuring 4 groups; wildflowers, Grasses with Rushes and Sedges, Invasive Species and Trees with Bushes and Ferns. These were carefully labeled with their common names, scientific names, family name and Jepson Manual reference number.
Instructive to see common names and scientific names side by side. Malvaceae- Mustard, Asteraceae- sunflowers, Iridaceae- Iris, Alliaceae- Onion or garlic, Geraniaceae- geranium, Caprifoliaceae- honeysuckle and so on. Many wildflowers are more petite versions of favorite flowers we plant from seed in our own gardens.
The “Unity Friendship Plant Sale- From Our Garden to Yours” gave attenders a chance to take something home to nurture. This year pretty placards with pictures of hummingbirds or bees were stuck in the pots to tell what would attract and nourish what. Business was brisk. Showing great salesperson savvy- on request plants cold be tucked under tables in boxes with your name attached for retrieval at the end of your visit or until you wanted to add another few plants to your collection. I believe cashier Valerie Haneldt was responsible for this innovation as the sturdy avocado boxes from Costco which have become one of her trademarks were the boxes in use. Christine Clark was also on hand taking in the money. Is there a club Christine has not had a hand in helping?
Upon entering everyone was invited to sign a guest book by Cindy Wilder, Joy Frazer Judy Basehore or the Mary Ann Grzenda. Just next to this was for the first time a silent auction which used to be a raffle. Lots and lots of alluring goods and services on offer. The cornucopia of goodies was solicited by the energetic Mary Ann Grzenda just before she fell ill with Covid but she is back in the pink and going strong - Mary Ann will be president of the Unity Club beginning next fall. Jean Condon organized and tracked the whole Auction quite a big job that she accomplished with efficiency and good humor. Rumor has it that she is supposed to become the new Robyn - big shoes but ones she surely will be able to fill. Auction proceeds to go to the Unity Club scholarship fund.
Charming teapots filled with flowers graced the tables in the tearoom area where Elementary School teacher Deleh Mayne and the Teen Center membership whipped up egg salad and chicken salad sandwiches and a host of sweet treats and served them along with welcome hot and cold beverages. Delicious. A table near by was staffed by members of the California Native Plant Society Ukiah branch check them out at Sanhedrin.cnps.org- some great books and pamphlets. “Soil Matters” was one intriguing title and the volunteer at the table said, “And how!” when I read the title out loud. Available along with another good one titled “Gardening for Wildlife and Native Plants” from Bay Nature at www.baynature.org Another good title was “Girls who looked under rocks- the lives of six pioneering naturalists” by Jeannine Atkins.
On display were some lovely wildflower watercolors painted at the High School by students of Nadia Berrigan. Three student artist names I saw were Camilla Olivera, Kellie Crisman and Lisset Ocha. The top three will win $50 prizes from the Unity Club.
Many interesting things where placed around the room on the display tables.
A laminated copy of a newspaper article about Gene Herr and her sister featured a story including her grandfather Ernest Clayton (1868-1956) - a painter of realistic botanical subjects. In the article Gene said that when her grandfather took she and her sister out for walks, “”Rocks and Trees had names. Each flower that we’d come across he would tell us its name and something about it. He taught us to keep our eyes open.” There is a bigger story in this little story. Appreciation for nature and things that grow or fly or swim is inoculated into children by adults who take the time to share their passion. Beth Swehla Agriculture Teacher at AVHS was at the show taking notes on the exhibits so that when she brought her class to the show on Monday they would be challenged to look a closely or to “Keep their eyes open”. Thank you Beth for passing the torch to our next generation. By the way check out the student Plant Sale at the High School this coming weekend Saturday May 7 9-noon.
On another table was the thick bible of plants “The Jepson Manual - Vascular Plants of California”. Also some fun facts including this; California Poppies are very common in Anderson Valley. They have been the state flower since 1903. It is illegal to pick them at schools, parks or courthouses. Mendocino Indians mashed dried leaves for pain relief” Another display ready, “Save the Monarch Butterfly - plant milkweed today! - Garden Club of Palo Alto. There were lots of blown up photos of plants and butterflies. One example The Morning Cloak butterfly Nymphalis Antiopa emerges during the first thaw and then seen in a variety of habitats.
Finishing off with information found on a poster for Local Garden Tours
May 15 - Grateful Gleaners Plant Sale Willits 707-972-6792
June 11- Herb School call Donna 707-459-5030
July 16 - Green uprising farm call Sara 707-216-5549
Aug. 13 - Ridgewood Ranch contact email@example.com
Aug. 13 - Fortunate Farm Open House Caspar 11-3
Russian River Rose - Healdsburg - classes and nursery by appointment
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The History of the Anderson Valley Wildflower Show
It all started in a small one-room schoolhouse about three winding miles from the Valley floor. A little pioneer settlement there had been called Peachland, and though mostly deserted now, the name lingers. As a young schoolteacher, Anderson Valley native Blanche Brown rode horseback from her home on Indian Creek three miles over a steep trail to the top of High Peak Ridge. Here stood a mill, which supplied a home for the five children in the school.
As part of their learning agenda, Blanche educated her students on the surrounding wild plants and flowers. By spring, they had found so many flowers and blossoming shrubs that they decided to keep a table full of specimens in the schoolhouse all the time. The parents were interested and helped in the search, and it was decided to finish the study with an exhibit. Since that spring in 1926, the exhibits continued to grow and be held every year.
In 1949, after 38 years of teaching in public schools, Blanche Brown retired. Also into retirement went the wildflower shows, until 1958, when she was again called upon by the Campfire Girls to assist with a study and exhibit. The exhibit was housed in the Indian Creek State Park Clubhouse, and attracted a great deal of attention.
The following year the show was sponsored by the Garden Section of the Unity Club, and more than 300 specimens were exhibited. Botanists attending took several specimens to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The show is sponsored by the Unity Club to this day.
Blanche Brown was painted in her later years in her wildflower garden at her home in Indian Creek over the years she transplanted and cared for many specimens of local wildflowers.
Blanche passed away in 1989 at the age of 96.