The Most Inept School Garden Fundraiser in History


My friend Carol Maxwell and I are about to embark on our third season as heads of the Lake Avenue Elementary School Garden Club. We have an ideal division of labor. Carol does all the organizational stuff. In addition, she does most of the requisite charming of obstinate adults to get us permission for things. And since she is on her way to becoming a high school science teacher, it seems only right that she also supply most of the patience needed to deal with other people's children.

 What do I offer?  I'm the grump with the gardening knowledge. 

Kids rainAlso, we both love to cook, and thanks to Carol's sunny nature, have learned that we actually can cook with 18 little kids.  And enjoy the experience as well as the incredible food.  Last season, we grew wonderful potatoes that the kids were thrilled to plant and harvest.  When it came time to mash them, Carol not only brought butter, but goat's milk.  What a concept!

For the first year and a half, Carol and I pretty much paid for everything for the garden and for the cooking out of our pockets.  But it got expensive, and last spring we wanted to move the garden to a sunnier spot, expand it, and fence it. 

So we decided to hold our first fundraiser. I was inspired by a perennial sale in the village I used to live in that benefits Hubbard Hall, a 19th century opera house and now a 21st century cultural center.  The Hubbard Hall sale is great, thanks to a handful of plant fantatics willing to divide really cutting-edge things and a lot of amazing old-fashioned plants in old gardens.  Even after I moved to Saratoga Springs, I would divide up the most interesting things in my yard and get up at 6:30 in the morning and drive all the way there to have first dibs.  Of course, given all the serious gardeners in that part of the world, you have to be alert. I once put down my tray and somebody instantly snatched the two uvularia I was thrilled to get right off of it. I am still bitter about that.

Carol and I decided to hold our own perennial sale.  We chose a date in May, and Carol, overwhelmed by schoolwork, printed up a flyer that had a different date.  We corrected ourselves.  We solicited donations from puzzled parents–this is not much of a gardening town.  We divided stuff out of our own yards. I had a great deal to contribute, including some big 'Sarah Bernhardt' peonies, since every year, I get enraged by the unsuccessful color scheme in my backyard and make a mental note to rip half the stuff out and try some other scheme the next spring.

My daughter Georgia painted a big sign on a sheet that we could hang from a table so people driving by would understand what we were doing.  We decided to copy the Hubbard Hall event and encouraged people to bring plants by allowing them a special donor-only hour to shop early.

Here is what we didn't do: choose a rain date.  In a frigid spring rain, Carol and I arrived at school punishingly early to drag tables out onto the sidewalk in front of the school and greet our early-bird donors.

There were no early-bird donors.  Our lips turned blue.  The custodian on duty felt sorry for us, and brought out two giant stiff raincoats meant for the crossing guards.  The paint on the cheery sign ran like mascara on the face of a weepy teenager.  I felt like weeping, too.

But instead, I ran to Starbucks and brought us back coffee.  We thawed.  It stopped raining.  People started bringing plants.  Nothing as sophisticated as a uvularia, but there was a cool-looking brown-flowered geranium that I quickly hid under the table for myself.

Shoppers started making their soggy way back from the farmer's market and buying stuff.  We were only charging two or three dollars a plant, so they seemed hardly to care what they bought.  Or maybe they were just less jaded than me.  More people brought more stuff.  It wasn't all pretty, but it was merchandise.

Still, the whole event seemed half-baked and unsuccessful until two o'clock rolled around and we counted up the wet, soggy one-dollar bills in our pockets.  Four hundred forty seven dollars.  Incredible!  People just like plants and will buy them!  It was enough to pay for compost and make a start at the $750 fence we wanted.  We were thrilled.

But my neighbor Vicky had been watching the generally pathetic preparations for this event–muddy perennials being pushed down the street in a wheelbarrow in a rainstorm–and sensibly asked what I was doing.  I told her, and she instantly volunteered that husband, dentist Greg Dodd, would buy us the fence. 

Not bad for a sloppy day's work!  This year, Carol and I are ceding control of the fundraiser to two more mentally crisp mothers of Garden Club members.  These women work in development and human resources and clearly know how to run a campaign. 

I predict Carol and I get our hearts' every desire: 18 cutting boards, 18 knives, and several stew pots for the faculty lounge.


  1. Congratulations! And, you have my deepest sympathy.

    climate change rule #1: set a weather date, no matter the season. If it’s in winter,(even a holiday fundraiser), may as well change theme to vernal equinox and set alternate date for First Day of Spring!

    Late summer/autumn brings hurricane season, now affecting events inland as far as WV. May as well punt to a Giving Thanks/Harvest theme for that one.

    Even gardeners amongst us forget that weather rules all.

  2. Wow you get to use knives with an elementary school kids? I’m not even allowed scissors with points at the high school where I do a plant propagation service learning project.

    Also I’m rethinking my seed selections because they were really interested in the salvia seeds because of that Millie Cyrus video where she’s smoking salvia. Mind you they aren’t the same plant, but they have the same common name. Ahhh politics.

    I’m glad you have a success story. I’m in need of a little inspiration this year.

  3. It is so sad to hear about all of these attempts to get school gardens going. We tried for ten years, all kinds of reasons from the administration why we couldn’t do it, many visits to to other school gardens and no luck!


  4. With your busy schedule you manage a school garden also? Wow. We learn more from the mishaps and mistakes. I can just see you tripling that money next plant sale.

  5. Perennial sales – hmmm….

    Wonder if we’d have enough interest in that ? Maybe not so much amongst the parents, but the surrounding homes (older, stately, interesting garden specimens) likely host at least a few avid gardeners. I’m going to mull that over a bit..

    Right now my biggest problem is convincing the principal that the big tree standing in the way of us & a real garden actually IS diseased and must go. She thinks diseased shade is still better than a sunny productive garden, apparently.

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