Improving the community, one flower at a time

Although the Salt Air Gardeners of Bay Forest have only been in existence since late 2016, they’re already making a big impact in their local community.

Last year, the club began a multi-phase improvement project at the Indian River Life-Saving Station.

“We wanted to give back to the community in some way, and that’s how this project came about,” said Libby Bishop, who co-chairs the project committee with Marilyn Chaney. “One of the people had been to the Inland Bays Garden Center and asked if they knew of any place that needed some landscaping done, and they recommended the Indian River Life-Saving Station…

“We were just looking for a place in the community that needed some help, and, boy, did they need help.”

Last week, the club created a rain garden to help keep the station’s pathway and parking lot from flooding, while last year they had landscaped around the gift shop entrance.

“We really transformed it. We’re really proud of it. We tried to make it low-maintenance,” said Bishop. “We had to choose plants that would be native to that location, that would be drought-tolerant and salt-tolerant. It was pretty challenging, but fun.”

Bishop said the club worked with Laura Scharle of the Indian River Life-Saving Station throughout the process.

“She has been very supportive of our efforts to improve the landscaping at the site.”

The project was funded by both the Life-Saving Station and the garden club. They also consulted with area garden centers, including Pepper’s Greenhouses in Milton, Lord’s Landscaping and the Inland Bays Garden Center.

Bishop praised the project committee members, who she said worked tirelessly to complete the project.

“They worked really hard, and I give them a lot of credit,” she said. “They volunteered a lot of time last summer … put a lot of time and energy into this.”

For the rain garden, the club added 38 plants, including a red chokeberry and sugar shaft buttonbushes.

“It’s a small rain garden and not your typical rain garden, where the water flows out of the gutters — this is runoff from the slope to protect the walking path and parking lot from flooding,” said Bishop, noting that hours and hours of research went into the project.

“We wanted it to be more low-maintenance for them. We tried to make sure we could save whatever was there and use it elsewhere in the design or work around it.”

Last year, the club was recognized for their work, receiving the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control’s Volunteer of the Year Award in the Conservation Group category for the planting and maintenance of the landscaping at the Life-Saving Station.

Salt Air Gardeners was formed in October 2016, starting with five women in Bay Forest.

“Bay Forest has an herb garden, and we were working there when we decided we wanted to take this to the larger community. We did that through forming the garden club,” said Lois McNamara, one of the founding members and the club’s current president.

“We are a big community-based group. We are out there, trying to improve the environment through our involvement and gardening.”

While the Life-Saving Station is the clubs first big project, they are also working with Habitat for Humanity and Garden with a Purpose. The club holds monthly meetings (except in February, July and August) and frequently has lectures and field trips, with destinations including Lavender Fields and Longwood Gardens.

“Next we’ll be going to a vineyard to learn about grape-growing and wine-making,” added McNamara.

The club is open to anyone with a love of gardening; however, members are required to serve on at least one committee.

“Anybody can join, from the total novice to Master Gardeners. The talent really ranges. All we ask for is people who really want to learn and help us,” McNamara said.

The club is also a part of the Delaware Federation of Garden Clubs and frequently hosts speakers.

“Gardening here is so different than gardening in other places because of the sand and soil content,” said Bishop, noting how good it is to learn from experts.

Gardening in the ground is not the only type of gardening the club focuses on, said Bishop, noting they’ve had workshops on terrariums and floral-arranging, too.

“There are things for people who don’t necessarily want to go out and dig in the dirt.”

“Part of our mission statement is to encourage women to use flower-arranging in their homes. We’ve had workshops teaching us how to build a floral arrangement — sometimes out of dried materials — but we mostly try to use fresh flowers,” added McNamara, who noted that the club would be hosting their first tea at Cripple Creek Golf & Country Club, where members would be able to show off their floral arrangements. “We have all kinds of activities going on throughout the year.”

One such activity includes the group’s yard sale and plant sale, which Bay Forest will be hosting this Saturday, May 18, from 8 a.m. to noon.

Both women said being a part of the garden club has been a truly wonderful experience.

“I love seeing something grow from a tiny little seed, but I also love the creative aspect of gardening, whether it’s flower-arranging or designing a flower bed. This was a particularly spectacular challenge,” said Bishop. “They’re a wonderful, enthusiastic group of women who are excited about continuing their learning about gardening. That’s really important — there’s always something more to learn.”

“My family raised plants, my mother was a gardener, my grandfather had greenhouses. I just grew up in an environment where we ate from our garden… I’ve always loved, loved gardening. I worked for Department of the Environment for 30 years, so I really believe in preservation, conservation, protecting the watersheds — and we’re trying to teach that as well,” added McNamara.

“I love the fellowship. I love being with these wonderful women who really want to learn and are very talented. It always excites me to be around people who have energy, and we have floral energy!”

McNamara said those who are interested in joining the club can attend a meeting to meet members and see how they operate. She said the members are what make it something special.

“Just come out and meet some wonderful, wonderful women and do what you love to do. It that’s gardening, if that’s flower arrangements, if you love making wreaths for your door — come get involved! Get involved in flowers and get outside and enjoy this fantastic land we have. The club is made up of wonderfully talented women.”

For more information about the Salt Air Gardeners, visit Those who are interested in joining Salt Air Gardeners may send inquiries to

By Maria Counts
Staff Reporter