Local Garden Club Celebrates Golden Anniversary

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Newport Hills Garden Club members (left to right) club parliamentarian Bea Lacey-Buchan, current president Jody Swinney, and membership chair and second vice president Engelina Jansema, pose for a photo in Swinney’s yard this week.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

A local club is celebrating its golden anniversary this year and members recently stopped to smell the roses and reflect on its history is full of community service, neighborly appreciation, and environmental instruction.

Newport Hills Garden Club held its 50th anniversary luncheon on Jan. 16 at the Harbor View Community Association Clubhouse.

But the club is about much more than just flowers. The group regularly fundraises for nonprofits and donates to local charities, they advocate and educate the public about the environment, and they socialize and make lifelong friendships.

The organization has carved out an important role in the community over the past five decades.

“It’s an impressive group,” said Engelina Jansema, membership chair and second vice president, during a recent interview.

Jansema, who joined the club in 1987, is one of the most active members of the group, along with current president Jody Swinney, who joined in 1985, and Bea Lacey-Buchan, club parliamentarian, who joined in 1986. All three have served as president at one point or another.

Newport Hills Garden Club founders Anne Peters (right) and Lorraine Brody at an event circa 2008.
— Photo courtesy Jody Swinney ©

Founded in 1970 by Anne Peters (wife of Indy cartoonist George Peters) and Lorraine Brody, as well as a few other neighbors including early members Barbara Glass and Joyce Anderson, the club started out of necessity.

In the early days, the homes were new with no gardens, Lacey-Buchan explained. There yards weren’t finished in the new tract of homes, Swinney added.

“It was just dirt out there,” joked Lacey-Buchan, who moved to the community in 1972.

It was a wonderful idea to start a garden club, she added.

“They decided to get their yards nice and fix it up a bit,” Jansema said.

They would often meet in the garden department of JC Penny’s at Fashion Island, Lacey-Buchan recalled.

“It was a fun time,” she said.

Many were young families, so it was also a good way to get to know their neighbors, they noted.

They hosted potlucks, holiday events, hat decorating contests, and more. The group also hosted some field trips, including a trip to Catalina Island that included a visit to the botanical gardens.

“We had a much younger group in those days,” Jansema noted.

The social aspect has continued through the years. A chair is appointed to ensure that every member gets a card on their birthday and special occasions. They celebrate accomplishments and support each other in times of need.

The Newport Hills Garden Club next to a tree they planted in the mid-1990s.
— Photo courtesy Bea Lacey-Buchan ©

“We always have each other’s backs,” Swinney commented.

Membership has dipped a bit over the years, as many young women often have full-time jobs now, the yards are already completed and many households use gardeners now. Although they are primarily women, they are always open to anyone, male or female, young or old, who is interested in joining.

There are 35 members at the moment, but at times they’ve had more than 100, Jansema confirmed.

“We’re small, but mighty,” Swinney said.

People have moved over the years but still want to stay connected to the group, she explained.

In the late 1970s to early 1980s, the group slowly began to expand outside the Port streets. Now, while the majority are still from the same neighborhood, they have members from Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Beach, and Costa Mesa.

The group focuses on education, hosting workshops, classes, and speakers to educate their members about a variety of topics, like butterflies, bees or ferns.

“Education will be the glue that holds this organization together,” continuing into the future, Swinney said.

So they have shifted and evolved to tailor their program and services to current needs. During the drought, the club held workshops on which plants would work best with very little water.

“Gardening in general has changed a lot over the years,” Swinney commented. “We try to roll with the times.”

The cover of the club’s cookbook from 1994.
— Courtesy Bea Lacey-Buchan ©

The philanthropic side of the club is noteworthy, Swinney said. As a tax-exempt charitable group themselves, they fundraise for six nonprofits annually: Centennial Farm Foundation, Crystal Cove Alliance, Environmental Nature Center, Newport Bay Conservancy, Sherman Library & Gardens, UCI Arboretum, and the Sea and Sage Audubon Society.

Members also regularly donate to several other groups: A tree (or, more recently, the funds for a tree) for Arbor Day; Penny Pines (to help reforest Cleveland National Forest in Southern California); Fairview Developmental Center; garden therapy at Mesa Verde; S.O.S. (Share Our Selves); Anna’s Table (members share plant cuttings and recycle other garden items); and more.

Over the years, the group held several big fundraisers, including a few home tours (1986, 1995, and 1998) and their own cookbook.

Now, their fundraisers may be scaled down, they still donate sizable amounts of time and money.

For Newport Hills Garden Club officials, the group is about much more than flowers; and the friendships, connections, philanthropy work, and public education will last another 50 years.

For more information or those interested in joining, call Engelina Jansema at (949) 645-0946

Members of Newport Hills Garden Club pose for a group photo in the mid-1990s.
— Photo courtesy Bea Lacey-Buchan ©
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