THE WATER GARDEN CLUB OF SOUTH TEXAS
Established January 8, 2000
NOTE: We get a number of requests asking us how did we start our club, what all was involved, etc. With that in mind, this paper was prepared to help other people who might be interested in starting a club. It includes the steps leading up to the actual formation plus a historical recap of our charter year. Hopefully, it might give you some ideas to pass on. And likewise, if you think of anything to add, pass on to us!
The Water Garden Club of South Texas was formed by a group of people who felt that the needs of true water gardeners were not being met. While the "seed" had been first planted even much earlier, work began in earnest in the summer of 1999 planning for this new club. Sort of like that expression, "plant an acorn and a tree will grow", the acorn was planted with great care. Months of preliminary meetings were done to try to anticipate as much as possible about the new club. By the time that a first meeting open to the public would be held, we wanted to have every little detail in place. We wanted people's first impression of this new club to be "WOW!"
These planning meetings covered such topics as meeting format, meeting location, determining bylaws, club officers, events, club newsletter, web site, etc. Of most importance was the design of a membership brochure for the club. This time was also spent talking with people involved in the business; from water garden storeowners to garden radio talk show hosts. The more people who knew about the club, the better it would be for us. And no matter whom we talked to, everyone expressed his or her full and enthusiastic support for the concept. A common comment was "well it's about time a club like this was formed".
One very important aspect discussed was the importance of continuity. We kept getting feedback that we should have a set meeting day, which would allow people to easily know when our meetings were. The second Saturday of each month was agreed upon, with the understanding that it would be changed only depending upon the needs of the speaker for that particular month.
It was decided that while this initial group would be the officers of the new club, this would only be for the first three months. At that time, new elections would be held. After three months, members would have had the chance to get to know each other a bit, and hopefully feel comfortable with getting more involved in the leadership of the club.
The decision was also made to hold off a public meeting until the new year. We would celebrate the new year with a new club for water gardeners! News of the new club would be distributed via flyers in the local water garden stores, one of their newsletters, a listing in the calendar section of the newspaper, plus call ins to the garden radio talk shows.
Our charter meeting was on January 8, 2000 with 25 excited "ponders" in attendance. Thanks to those months of earlier work, we presented a calendar with the entire 12 months already scheduled out for speakers. We have since learned from feedback that by having the entire year already scheduled and membership brochures available, people quickly felt that we were serious about this club and that it would be something worthwhile to become involved with. (This has also been said about our web site, which is reviewed later.)
Interest in the club quickly exploded, with the club having over 35 dues-paid members in less than two months. The Water Garden Club of South Texas has been described as "one of the fastest growing horticulture based clubs ever seen in the San Antonio area". What made this even more amazing was that we started in the middle of winter, when nobody was even thinking of water gardening. We were often asked "what in the world is going to happen to the club when the weather warms up and people start actually thinking about water gardening?" The reply would always be "grow even faster!"
Our first year saw all meetings held at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, usually on the second Saturday of each month. We started the year with the entire year's program scheduled out, which really made things easy as we did not always have to think, "What's next?" And what a year it was as for a brand new club, we sure did get awfully busy real quick.
In March the three-month temporary term of officers expired, and our first full-blown election was held. While the new club elected the same people back into office, new members did indeed step forward and take other positions of needed leadership. Our first club project was rather intimidating - we took on splitting and repotting the plants in the Conservatory Pond at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. They had not been split in 10 years, and they were just a little bit overgrown. In fact, the entire pond was one overgrown jungle! It took two days of backbreaking work, but we did it. Then in April we had a booth at Viva Botanica, an annual event held at the Botanical Garden. Also in April we gathered at a member's home where we had our first plant splitting and sharing party. Everybody brought plants, and left with new plants. In addition, we made the event into a bar-b-que party. A few weeks later in May, we had another booth at the Festival of Flowers, a major local gardening trade show. (The "booths" at these events included tables full of items for sale as well as a very attractive pond display with running water, complete with fish!)
Charging full speed ahead, in June we sponsored the first ever Water Gardening Day at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. (This was an "educational event" of the Garden's and we were asked to put it on for them.) We had two outstanding speakers, Dr. Clyde Ikins and Anita Nelson, along with tables full of vendors. The publicity for this event was incredible, and as a result people were actually turned away! (For the seminars, we had over 120 people crammed into a room that seats 65.) Dr. Ikins said that even though he had traveled all over the country to similar events, he had "never seen such excitement and enthusiasm as at this one". Officials from the Botanical Garden stated as well that it was "one of the largest attended educational events in the history of the Gardens". WOW - not bad for our first try at such an event!
July and August saw us planning for our first pond tour, to be held in September. The tour involved the San Antonio Botanical Society as a beneficiary of some of the proceeds. While we did make money to share with the Society, we sure learned a lot! Two major things that we learned is that your tour needs to follow some major public events that you can be selling tickets and people need to be where the marketing is. In our case, there were NO major events prior to the tour and continuous 100°+ weather kept people out of the area nurseries. The tour would have to be moved!
The next couple of months saw us take a well-deserved rest! We ended the year with a spectacular Christmas party at a member's house. We did so well at cramming people into that seminar room, we decided to see how we could do at cramming people into a house! (And we did very well again at getting a large number of people into a limited amount of space!) Everybody brought a dish, and all had a blast. We were even blessed with Dr. Clyde Ikins coming in for the party! And you know what? He was one of the last ones to leave around Midnight. Party on!
And there's even more! In addition to making our presence known in the local gardening community, we developed an extensive web site. The web site serves a two-fold purpose. First, it is a marketing tool for information about our club. We have information on club events, promotions, pictures, etc. Secondly, we are developing it to be a resource tool on the entire range of water gardening. This section, titled "Water Gardening 101", will cover a wide range of issues of importance to all water gardeners. While many web sites state that they are "under construction" when they first start out, our web site will always be under construction as we constantly update it with current news for water garden enthusiasts.
We were truly blessed our first year. We were blessed with some terrific people joining our club who always volunteered when needed! We were blessed with some terrific support from the hosts for the various gardening radio talk shows! We were blessed with some terrific support from vendors! We feel that our charter year was a huge success project-wise. And by ending the year at around 110 members, it was a huge success on the membership side as well. Even more importantly, we have all had an opportunity to make some great friendships from this club!
And just WHAT will we do for our second year? Easy - take the successes from our first year and make them into even better and bigger successes. Take the lessons learned and hopefully make life a little easier the second time around sounds like a pretty good idea too. But most importantly, continue to provide a forum for the comfortable exchange of ideas among water gardeners from all walks of life. With the support of all of our members and friends, we will be THE premier water gardening network in South Texas!
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All who dream are welcome to our pond.