The North Carolina Arboretum Award, given by the Garden Club of North Carolina (GCNC) and sponsored by Mary Reeves, director of District 1 for GCNC, recognizes a garden club’s commitment to furthering the Arboretum’s mission and cultivating connections between civic organizations and plants. This year’s award was given to the Yadkin Valley Garden Club in honor of their work to improve the Elkin Municipal Park in Elkin, North Carolina. I had the opportunity to speak with club member Mary Mascenik about the award, her club and ongoing projects at the park.

Why did you decide to apply for The North Carolina Arboretum Award?

Our club is trying to be more active in seeking out recognition for what we do in the community. In addition, an award helps boost motivation for completing a project and gives a focus to do more things.

Why did the club decide to update the Elkin Municipal Park garden plot?

The Elkin Municipal Park garden was created in 1983 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Yadkin Valley Garden Club. We take great pride in our garden plot, and many who come to jog, walk and enjoy the gardens enjoy the park. We want to try and keep it enjoyable for everyone. In 1993, the club received an award from the state recognizing our efforts for maintaining and updating the garden, but the project did not end there. The east side of the garden was beautiful and easy to work with, but the west side has been challenging. We needed to find plants that tolerated all the elements — sun, wind, flooding, sandy soil, deer and low maintenance. We are grateful that the town of Elkin granted us $300 to help buy flowers for the plot.

Our garden club is the 11th oldest in the state. We have taken ownership of this plot and want to support the town. If we were to abandon it, we would be dishonoring our club’s forebears and their dedication to the community.

How did the club work together to update the Elkin Municipal Park garden plot? Did you work with any outside organizations?

A group of five or six of us looked at the plot like it was a blank canvas. The park connects with the Elkin & Alleghany Rail-Trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the Elkin Loop, so we wanted to blend the landscape in with these connecting trails. Various native plants, including ferns, Carolina silver bells and beautyberry, grow along those trails. We looked for native plants such as winterberry holly, which thrives in high, dry and sandy soil, when planning the landscape. Part of the Rail-Trail’s mission is to bring people out into nature, and the trail is a birding hotspot, so we tried to connect with those aspects of the Rail-Trail as well. Our club didn’t receive any financial support from other organizations, but the insight from the Elkin & Alleghany Rail-Trail was very helpful, especially when looking for indigenous plants. During construction, the Elkin Parks & Recreation Department helped us with soil and edging.

Does the club have plans to help improve other areas in the Elkin area?

We are really motivated about an ongoing project designed to promote breast cancer awareness. The idea is to create and maintain a “pink garden” at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital by sectioning off an area and filling it with plants that only bloom in pink.

Why is it important for garden clubs to work in the community?

This issue comes down to example and guidance. We often consider the mandate of Mrs. W. W. Whitaker, our club founder and recipient of GCNC’s highest honor, the Maslin Award, in the 1960s, “take ladies out to bring them to do civic beautification.”

Mary Mascenik is a member and past president of the Yadkin Valley Garden Club. She has been involved with the club for 19 years.