Malibu Garden Club may soon be a thing of the past

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Nita Rodriguez, Shirley D'Haenens and Del Taylor of the Malibu Garden Club take in the view from a vine-covered gazebo at the Nirvana garden on a tour last year. The club is in danger of disbanding if it does not recruit new members. Photo by Devon Meyers / TMT

The 50-year-old club is seeking new, younger members to keep the legacy going.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

One of Malibu’s most venerable, if not oldest, social clubs is in danger of folding, 50 years after incorporating.

The Malibu Garden Club, which has hosted its locally popular annual Malibu Garden Tour for the past 12 years, first started monthly meetings in 1958. Now, due to an aging membership and a lack of new, young adherents, the club is close to disbanding, Membership Director Linda Androlia said.

“I’m 64 and one of the younger members,” Androlia said. “We’d like to get some new members in, but it seems that younger people don’t do their own gardening anymore. They hire gardeners.”

This was not the case in the late ’50s, when Malibu was just “a bunch of rolling hills, chaparral and maybe only one or two houses at Point Dume,” Tally Philbrick, at 85 one of the club’s oldest members, said.

Malibu landscaping pioneers were faced with windy climates, salt-laced breezes and a paucity of experienced advice when it came to garden design. Philbrick said young eucalyptus trees and myoporum shrub primarily represented local flora. Most home gardening was a process of trial and error, with neighbors discussing pruning techniques over a back fence.

“In the early days, we’d meet for a round table and talk about how best to grow and prune roses,” Philbrick said. “None of us knew what to do. Eventually we formed a club with dues and we’d have guest speakers each month.”

The club thrived as new presidents were elected, membership expanded and yearly garden parties were added to the calendar each August, with raffles and a monthly “Newzette” copied at Kinko’s and sent out to all members.

“We held our last garden party a few years ago,” Philbrick, who held the club presidency for two terms, said. “But our board members are tired. We need some new blood. It’s time to pass the torch.”

Aaron Landworth, a landscape designer and professional horticulturist, serves as ways and means chairman for the club and now vets local homes that are included in the annual garden tour. He said he had wanted to join the Malibu Garden Club since he was in his 20s, but family obligations distracted him until recently.

“I know there are a lot of people in Malibu interested in gardening, but I don’t think they know about membership in the club,” Landworth said. “If you do any gardening at all you need some kind of instruction, and with us you can learn one-on-one with experienced local gardeners.”

With yearly dues at $25 and a once-a-month club meeting, Landworth said the commitment to the club is minimal, but with maximum benefit.

“We usually have really great speakers like Andy Lopez, The Invisible Gardener, to talk about low maintenance and organic gardening,” Landworth said. “Basically, if you bring your gardening problem to a meeting, you’re going to find a solution.”

Garden clubs have long been social fixtures in American communities. The Garden Club of America first incorporated in Delaware in 1923. Clubs in Washington D.C. and Savannah, Ga. promote internationally attended local garden tours during cherry tree and dogwood blossom seasons.

The Annual Malibu Garden Tour, which takes place in May, recognizes four or five local homes each year for their unique designs incorporating native and exotic planting. Entry fee for the docent-led tours is $25 and the club usually receives dozens of submissions from local homeowners for tour consideration each year.

“You see some really creative land uses for landscape design,” Androlia said. “Last year, one home had a barn burned in the fires of 2007. But instead of taking the ruins and the foundation out, they converted it into a water feature.”

Program director Deborah Backman said the Annual Malibu Garden Tour is recognized as one of the best in the state and that UCLA horticulture professors make the tour part of their yearly curriculum.

“People tend to think of us as just an old lady club,” Backman said. “But our monthly speakers are young and vital professionals who talk about important issues regarding our land preservation. Next month, we have Elizabeth Schwartz of the Theodore Payne Foundation. She’s a walking encyclopedia on native plants. We get indispensable advice on water usage and organic planting each month.”

Current club President Shirley Feron said the club also takes on local legislative issues that affect land use. Club members had attended last week’s council meeting to support a local farmers’ market.

“The garden club does a lot for Malibu,” Feron said, “but we have to get some new members to take over before everyone just dies out.”

The Malibu Garden Club meets the first Wednesday of each month at the Point Dume Club House. More information on membership can be obtained by calling Linda Androlia at 310.457.3860 or e-mailing sunstonetours@aol.com