upon a time, oh, say around 1998, some folks approached me about
forming a water garden club for the San Antonio, Texas area.
I declined the request, stating that the area had a koi/goldfish
club (to which I belonged). I didnt see the need for a
competing club. But the person asking me was persistent, and
kept urging me to form one.
Other things were happening to make me realize that there
really was a need for a true water garden club, not just a fish
club. So finally in mid-1999, I agreed to join the effort to
form a water garden club. This is the story of the behind
the scenes of how to form such a club. If you are thinking
about forming such a club, hopefully this will help you in the
all-critical planning stages.
As charter president, I have been asked many times how did
we ever manage to form such a popular club. The saying, If
you build it, they will come, while seemingly appropriate
in our case, works only with a lot of preplanning. And did we
ever do that! I hope that by writing this, anyone interested
in forming a club finds several good ideas from the successful
path that we enjoyed. But by all means, improve on what follows;
life always presents room for improvement.
A group of us formed the Water Garden Club of South Texas
because we felt that the area needed a true water garden club.
While the "seed" had been first planted much earlier,
planning began in earnest in the summer of 1999. Like that expression,
"Plant an acorn and a tree will grow, we planted the
acorn with lots of tender loving care. We met for months thoroughly
planning for all aspects of the new club. By the time we held
our first public meeting, we wanted every little detail in place.
We prepared aiming for people's first impression of our new club
to be, "WOW!"
Our planning sessions covered such topics as meeting format,
meeting location, bylaws, officers, events, newsletter, web site,
etc. Most important was designing a membership brochure. We also
sensed that it was important to present a full years program.
For our first meeting we printed calendars showing the entire
years schedule. We decided to take the easy way out and
distribute only a quarterly newsletter.
We also talked with people involved in the business--from
water garden store owners to garden radio talk show hosts. The
more people who knew in advance about the club, the better it
would be. And no matter to whom we talked, everyone expressed
enthusiastic support for our concept. A common comment was, "Well,
it's about time to form a club like this.
One very important aspect we discussed was the importance
of continuity. We received feedback to set a fixed meeting day
of the month so people could easily know our meeting dates. We
decided on the second Saturday of each month with the understanding
that it would be changed if the needs of the speaker required
The initial group assumed office for the first three months,
after which we held elections. Meanwhile members had the opportunity
to get to know each other and to feel comfortable about the possibility
of advancing to leadership positions.
We decided to delay a public meeting until after New Years
Day. We wanted to celebrate the New Year with a new club for
water gardeners! We distributed news of the new club via flyers
in the local water garden stores, one of their newsletters, a
listing in the calendar section of the newspaper, and call-ins
to the garden radio talk shows.
One of the founders wrote an article for our first newsletter
using the phrase, All who dream are welcome to our pond.
Her phrase makes a terrific motto, and I promptly put it on every
piece of promotional material.
Twenty-five excited ponders attended our January 8, 2000,
charter meeting. Thanks to those months of earlier work, we presented
everyone a calendar showing 12 months of meetings, topics, speakers,
and special events. We have since learned that the membership
brochures and schedule for a full year made people quickly feel
that we were a worthwhile club.
Interest in the club quickly exploded and we signed up over
35 dues-paid members within 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 is that we started
in the middle of winter when nobody was thinking of water
gardening. People 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?" My reply would
always be, "Grow even faster!"
During our first year we held all meetings at the San Antonio
Botanical Garden, usually on the second Saturday of each month.
Having the entire year's program scheduled really made things
easy because we did not always have to think, "What's next?"
And what a year it was for a brand new club; we found ourselves
awfully busy right from the start.
In March the three-month temporary term of officers expired,
and we held our first election. The same people remained in office,
and new members did indeed step forward and take other key positions.
For our first club project we agreed to the rather intimidating
task of splitting and repotting the plants in the Conservatory
Pond at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. They had not been split
in 10 years; the entire pond had become one overgrown jungle.
It took two days of backbreaking work, but we did it.
Then in April we operated a booth at Viva Botanica, an annual
SABG event. Also in April we gathered at a member's home for
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 maintained
a booth at the Festival of Flowers, a major local gardening trade
show. Booths at these events included tables full of items for
sale and a very attractive pond display with running water, complete
Charging full speed ahead, in June we sponsored the first
Water Gardening Day at SABG. The Garden asked us to produce the
new educational event for them. We featured two outstanding speakers,
Dr. Clyde Ikins and Anita Nelson, and tables full of vendors.
We enjoyed such incredible publicity for it that people were
actually turned away! We attracted an overflowing crowd into
the seminar room.
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 SABG stated
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!
During July and August we planned for our first pond tour,
Septembers Alamo Tour de Ponds. The tour involved the SABG
as a beneficiary of some of the proceeds. We did make money to
share with the Society and we surely learned a lot!
The first major thing that we learned is that your tour needs
to follow some major public events. Use those events to promote
your pond tour and to sell tickets. At such an event, you have
a captive audience walking in front of you an audience
of potential ticket buyers. In our case, there was NO major event
before the tour. Without events before our tour, we then sold
tickets at most of the local nurseries in the area.
The second important thing we learned is that continuous 100°F
+ weather keeps people out of the area nurseries. We might love
our yards, but such a heat wave can keep even the most ardent
gardener indoors where its cool. The tour would have to
The next couple of months we took a well-deserved rest. We
ended the year with a spectacular Christmas party at a member's
house. We did so well at attracting all those people into that
seminar room for Water Gardening Day that we decided to try cramming
people into a house. We did very well again. Everybody brought
a dish and all had a blast. We were even blessed with Dr. Ikins
attending the party.
And there's even more! In addition to making our presence
known in the local gardening community, we developed an extensive
web site. It serves a two-fold purpose. First, its a marketing
tool for information about our club. We give information on club
events, promotions, pictures, etc. Second, its a resource
tool on the entire range of water gardening. Its reference section
got us listed as a link on one of the most heavily visited garden
web sites in south Texas.
Broadcast emails give us another means of communication. Visitors
to the web site subscribe to the service. We send
out emails with information on upcoming club events. In addition,
we send general water gardening news to all subscribers.
While web site visitors may request being added to the email
list, club members automatically receive all such emails. For
more publicity, we always send emails to area radio garden talk
show hosts and the home/gardening people at the newspaper.