In 1964, Mt. Laurel Township looked a lot different than it does today.
Large amounts of open space and farmland dominated the landscape. Rural, one-lane streets such as Hartford Road had very little traffic traversing them. Big box stores and large-scale developments were non-existent.
It was in that rural farm town when a group of eight women officially founded the Mt. Laurel Garden Club.
Now, 50 years later, the club continues to serve the community in a variety of ways. With a membership of 67, it has become a big part of the township.
The Garden Club meets once a month at the Mt. Laurel Library. The group gathers for lunch and will have a gardening-related program. This meeting format is relatively unchanged from when the club first started.
“They met in each otherss’ homes, had lunch and discussed gardening things,” said Jean Thomas, a member of the club.
Thomas said the founding members were women who cared about improving their community through gardening.
“These women weren’t farm women,” she said. “They cared more about civic pride.”
The club’s goals have not changed much from 50 years ago. Its mission is still making Mt. Laurel beautiful with plants and gardening, even as the township has developed.
“They’re a very committed and active group,” club president Cathy Hepp said.
Hepp said the township embraces the club just as much today as it did 50 years ago. The club maintains a number of large projects on township property, including the 9–11 Memorial at Mt. Laurel Memorial Park, the Arbor Day tree donations and the planting area at the Veterans Memorial at Laurel Acres Park. The club also started a planting area at the Laurel Acres Park sign last year.
“I’ve spoken with the township manager on how to do things,” Hepp said. “They kind of give us free rein. If we’re saying we want to plant something, they let us do it.”
All the planting done by the club comes with expenses. While the club collects annual membership fees, it still needs to do a lot of fundraising to pay for its many projects.
One of its largest fundraisers of the year is coming up on April 26. The club is holding its annual plant sale at the Mt. Laurel Library. A number of the plants are dug up from the gardens of members and transported to the library to be sold.
“We had one member who once dug up hundreds and hundreds of plants,” Thomas said.
The plant sale and other fundraisers help to fund the maintenance of the many projects the garden club partakes in each year.
“We have a set budget for each year, and we remain in that budget,” club treasurer Maureen Crinnion said.
Finding members is very important to the club as well. Many of the club’s members are accomplished gardeners. The club has won awards from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and at the Philadelphia Flower Show in past years.
“Everyone has a different skill set with the garden club, but they all have a love for gardening,” Hepp said.
Each member is required to participate in three projects each year, helping to spread the workload around and allow everyone to get involved.
The club is always welcoming of new members as well. Hepp said any resident of Mt. Laurel can participate. Though the club consists of mostly women, men are also welcome.
Lately, the focus has been on the club’s past and the difference it has made over the past 50 years.
“For the last five meetings, we’ve been giving the history of our club, decade by decade,” Crinnion said.
The club has archived most of its history and is preparing a slideshow for its 50th anniversary celebration on June 11 at Tavistock Country Club in Haddonfield.
The celebration will feature special guests, food and prizes. There will also be three $1,000 scholarships awarded to Mt. Laurel high school seniors, something the club fundraises for every year.
Mt. Laurel has gone through many changes in the last 50 years, but the garden club’s mission of community and civic involvement has always remained the same.