Putting on the Gig Harbor Garden Tour is much akin to staging a huge theatrical production. There are rehearsals, with the host gardeners being the cast, preparing throughout the year, step by step, getting ready for the big opening weekend including tweaking the ‘costumes,’ ‘props’ and ‘scenery’ down to the very last minute. The dedicated volunteers who do all the behind-the-scenes jobs are the staff and crew. They take care of the logistics, the program, the publicity, sponsorships, ticket sales and a myriad of details the public is rarely aware of but are vital for a successful production.
Believe it or not, this annual production really does involve a cast and crew of thousands: hundreds of community volunteers who run the show, and the 1,000 ticket buyers who form the audience. First and foremost are the people who open their gardens. These folks are people who thoroughly enjoy sharing their horticultural accomplishments with other like-minded gardeners. Their intent is to delight and to educate.
The other people working practically year round are the members of the Gig Harbor Garden Tour committee who are the backbone of the organization, and the Association Board, the not-for-profit organization that oversee
s the whole process. Jan Reeder, retired Gig Harbor High principal, is the current president of the board.
The worker bees are the committee members who divide into sub-committees such as advertising and publicity, vendors, ticket sales, logistics, publications, sponsorships, and garden selection. Finally, there’s the ‘seasonal crew’: the volunteers who act as docents and ticket-takers at the gardens during the tour. Some of these people have been volunteering for the entire 20 years of the tour’s existence.
Why, you may ask, do all these people come together year after year to celebrate gardening? The answer is: They have a wonderful cause. That cause is the desire to provide a chance for children and adults in our area to experience the power of literacy. Obviously, lack of reading ability is a great hindrance to success in school or in the workplace. For the past 20 years, the tour has found ways to assist our local schools and other educators to find those in need of help with reading skills, be they children or adults.
Jan has been president of the board for three years and has a strong interest in education. She says, “It’s wonderful to go to a school and see how our funding has enhanced so many reading programs … and how grateful both the teachers and students are for the extra dollars. A little goes a long way in the public schools!”
Mark and Inez Ritchey have been with the tour for the entire 20 years of its existence, acting in various capacities as the tour grew and changed. Mark is still the man who organizes the logistical side of things, making sure that the tour map is correct and the directional signs are all in place early on the first day of the event. He and Inez were originally involved in helping to find gardens, and Inez’s past jobs have been vendor chair and artists-in-the-gardens chair. They both take on a multitude of jobs behind the scenes to keep the show on the road.
Kathie Wheeler is one of the newer members of the crew. She began quite by accident when she helped with a gala fundraiser for the tour and eventually segued into being co-chair of the committee along with Esther Ellickson. Currently, Kathie is in charge of publications. She is the person who puts together the very professional program that each ticket-holder receives.
Thanks to all these volunteers, the amount of grant funding distributed between 2011 to the present totals $165,000. Last fall, the Gig Harbor Garden Tour Association awarded literacy grants for a total of $30,500 from proceeds of the 2016 Garden Tour.
These newest grantees are area schools including Discovery Elementary School for their Garden Tour Intervention program that provides daily small-group reading for all students; Purdy Elementary School for their parent-student Literacy Night program; Evergreen Elementary School for science books to support a new outdoor environmental program on the school campus; Vaughn Elementary School for equipment to support student-produced behavior-improvement videos; and Minter Creek Elementary School for materials to implement Third Grade Book Clubs and materials for after-school tutoring programs.
Grants were also given to Pierce County Library for their popular Baby Books To-Go bags; Communities in Schools to provide materials for volunteer reading tutors; and Pediatrics Northwest for books to support a program to encourage parents reading to very young children.
So when the sun comes up on opening weekend (June 24 and 25 this year), you, the audience, will be aware of all that went on both on stage and behind the scenes to create another spectacular production. Let’s hope you can give the Gig Harbor Garden Tour a well-deserved standing ovation! Bravo/Brava!