Film spotlights innovative landscape design


For the Recorder

Published: 03-13-2023 6:04 PM

For Laura Schlaikjer, horticultural inspirations come from multiple branches of her family tree: relatives on her father’s side were Midwestern homesteaders, and Schlaikjer says that her mother, Elise, has “10 green thumbs.” Elise gave Laura and her brother each a patch of soil to tend when they were children growing up in Princeton.

Tending the soil became a way of life, and as president of the Greenfield Garden Club since 2013, Schlaikjer is a steady driving force behind local gardening activities, inspiring others to explore the joys of growing plants both indoors and outside.

Thanks to the Greenfield Garden Club, locals can enjoy a 3 p.m. film screening on Sunday, March 19, at the Garden Cinemas. “Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf” tells of a famed Dutch landscape designer whose innovative approaches changed the way many people think about how, when and where to tend — and to welcome — plants.

Created by award-winning filmmaker Thomas Piper, Five Seasons “immerses viewers in Oudolf’s work and takes us inside his creative process, from his beautifully abstract sketches, to theories on beauty, to the ecological implications of his ideas,” according to promotional materials. Viewers get glimpses of Oudolf’s own gardens in the Netherlands, as well as signature public works in New York, Chicago and other places.

“I saw the film at the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro in 2019,” said Schlaikjer, “and it struck me that fabulous gardens I had admired in major cities were the work of this amazing landscape artist.” While in Chicago on a business trip, Schlaikjer visited the Lurie Garden, and while in New York, she checked out The High Line, a 1.5-mile-long elevated park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on Manhattan’s west side.

In each location, Schlaikjer was unaware she was observing Oudolf’s genius. “I was totally unfamiliar with his work, but astonished by what I saw. The colors and textures were beautiful, and I found it fascinating.”

With the film screening coming up this weekend, Schlaikjer is thrilled to share her love of Oudolf’s work with local residents interested in unconventional approaches to landscaping and gardening.

“Seeing the film is a perfect way to get ready for the growing season. Those of us who plan events for the club are always looking for something to do, even in winter,” she said. Club members had hoped to collaborate with the Garden Cinemas a few years ago, “but then COVID hit, and everything got put on hold.”

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She also hopes the film might inspire people from surrounding communities to join the Greenfield Garden Club.

“It’s not just for Greenfield residents,” emphasized Schlaikjer, who has participated in the club while a resident of Greenfield, Gill and now Leyden. Current members represent many other towns, including Amherst, Belchertown, Bernardston, Montague, South Hadley, Turners Falls and Wendell.

Last month, the Greenfield Garden Club had its first in-person annual meeting since the pandemic interrupted such activities; members were pleasantly surprised by the number of people in attendance.

“We currently have 82 members,” said Schlaikjer, “and we expected maybe 40 people to show up, tops. So when 53 people came, we knew we must be going in the right direction.”

Schlaikjer emphasizes that there are no experience or expertise requirements: “Anyone with interest can join, and we hope they will! You don’t have to be a master gardener, and there are no white gloves in this club, no judgments. You don’t have to be sponsored by anybody, as I’ve heard was the case with one garden club in western Mass.” She added, “You certainly don’t have to be a perfect gardener. If you enjoy connecting with other enthusiasts, that’s what we’re looking for.”

At the annual meeting, someone commented that they hadn’t anticipated seeing so many men. “Sometimes people assume that garden clubs are more of a female thing. That’s simply not true,” said Schlaikjer. “It’s great to get everyone involved. We’re especially hoping to gain members under the age of 50.”

Membership is $20 for individuals and $25 for a family. Schlaikjer has been a member since attending the 2007 annual meeting.

“I’ve been on the steering committee ever since,” she said, “including as treasurer for five years.”

She publishes the group’s newsletter, handles the website and keeps track of membership details. Garden Club organizers aim to present public events during every month of the calendar year, not only when plants are green and lush. “We’re hoping to do a health and healing event in April, and we’re also considering a houseplant propagation workshop and plant swap in May,” Schlaikjer said.

For years, the club hosted an annual Plant Extravaganza, but skipped it in 2021 due to horticultural hazards posed by Amynthas agrestis, also known as the jumping worm. “We didn’t want to pot that guy up and send him all over the county,” said Schlaikjer. (For more information about Amynthas agrestis, see “Locals can help thwart invasive species” in the Sept. 28, 2021 edition of the Greenfield Recorder).

The club’s Garden Tour has been another big hit locally for many years. “We organize a tour every other year,” said Schlaikjer, “and while this is an off-year for the tour, we have lots of other stuff going on.” The club’s grant committee is in the process of regrouping, since “the pandemic put a stop to our grants,” she said. The club has a history of supporting local projects, including programs encouraging children to get involved with gardening.

Having lived in several towns in Franklin County, Schlaikjer now has a “pretty good-size garden,” she said. “We have 12 acres in Leyden, including shrubs, trees, vegetables and perennials.”

She recently retired from working as a logistics and events staff member with the Center for Responsive Schools, based in Turners Falls.

“I’m grateful to have more time to garden,” Schlaikjer said. “When I had to travel for work, I missed important parts of the season.”

Admission to Sunday’s film is $5. Moviegoers are welcome to stay for a discussion after the screening, and there will be a Greenfield Garden Club membership table with organizational materials.

Eveline MacDougall encourages readers to contact her with suggestions about stories related to homes and gardens: