With National Volunteer Week being celebrated the week of April 23-29, this is an opportunity to focus on the work of local volunteers. Members of the Rake & Hoe Garden Club of Westfield, NJ, may spend hundreds of hours in their own gardens from spring to fall, but they are also a hidden force of community service volunteers.

Throughout the growing season, volunteers maintain several public gardens in Westfield. At the North Avenue Train Station, members have planted daffodils and continue to weed the over-growth and prune the shrubs. In cooperation with the Westfield Public Works Department, club volunteers arrive with their own garden tools, clean up the area, and leave the bags of debris for the town workers to haul away.

Shadowlawn Pocket Park, at the corner of Rahway Ave. and Shadowlawn Dr., was designed and planted by the club in 2004. Rake & Hoe members tend the grounds, which include a Blue Star Memorial garden. The park is also home to a butterfly garden created by the Club’s youth group, through a grant from the Garden Club of New Jersey (GCNJ). The ‘Juniors’ continue to care for it, working side by side with adult advisors from Rake & Hoe. Juniors also tend the Dye and Fern Gardens at the Miller-Cory House Museum. The club encourages and develops the Juniors’ interest in environmental concerns. The youth members have won numerous ribbons in the annual GCNJ Flower Show for their pollinator projects, floral arts & crafts, and flower designs.

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The Colonial period gardens at the Miller-Cory House Museum, located on Mountain Ave., were designed and planted in part by the club, and members maintain them regularly. They also provide floral arrangements when the Museum has special activities. The Reeve History & Cultural Resource Center is the site of the Claire Brownell Memorial Wildflower Garden, also designed and planted by the club.

In addition to garden projects, the club is actively involved with several non-profit groups, including Mobile Meals. Members create small flower arrangements twice a year to brighten up meal trays that are delivered to local residents. Rake & Hoe Club President Diana Kazazis has been a member since 2001 and has seen the club grow. She notes, "The Rake and Hoe club members are dedicated to the community and devoted to friendships. They are talented, nurturing folks who are very willing to share their knowledge.” At Lyons Veterans Hospital, club members recently provided a floral design workshop and lunch for some of the Lyons veterans. They donate holiday gift bags to the veterans every December. Four times a year, bedside flower arrangements are brought to residents, and members write cards of appreciation to veterans.

The Rake & Hoe Garden Club also works with the Jardine Academy in Cranford. This is an approved private school of the New Jersey Department of Education operated by the Cerebral Palsy League. R&H members make ornaments and decorate holiday trees, read stories and donate books for the children. In the spring, a craft is made for each child.

Fundraisers Support Charitable Initiatives

The Rake & Hoe Garden Club hosts fundraisers to support their charitable and educational initiatives. The “Deck The Halls” house tour has become a community tradition and is eagerly awaited by the public. Every four years in December members pitch in to decorate four private homes, turning them into seasonal fantasies.

A second fundraiser, a flower show, is being presented this year on April 28th, and will feature over 200 competitive entries of traditional and unusual plants, garden photography, and floral designs. This is an opportunity for the public to learn more about plants and floral designs. Garden club members will be available to answer questions about plant care, and a special exhibit will focus on the role of pollinators and their endangered status.

This year’s theme is “A Victorian Spring,” with floral designs and special exhibits interpreting the life and reign of Queen Victoria. Mini-lectures will each be presented twice during the day on “Floral Creations,” “Victorian Photography,” “Victorian Whimsie, Dress and Customs,” and “The Art of Quilling.” The public can shop for gifts in the boutique and then enjoy a typical English tea of sweets and savories. Tickets for the tea are $10, available only at the show. Tea will be served from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.; the flower show runs until 7:00 p.m.

The flower show will be held at the Presbyterian Church of Westfield. Admission tickets are $15 in advance at Baron’s Drug Store and Williams’ Nursery, or $20 at the door. Children under 18 are free. For advance tickets and more information, call Pat Wilson (908-389-9342), or go to www.rakeandhoe.org.

The Westfield Public Library’s main display case currently showcases an exhibit of the Rake and Hoe Club’s activities. It also contains a variety of Victorian memorabilia, in conjunction with the “Victorian Spring” show. It can be seen through the end of April.