Members-only privileges

Morningside Nature Center is a City of Gainesville Park.
For more than 20 years the City of Gainesville, the Friends of Gainesville's Nature Parks, and the Paynes Prairie FNPS Chapter have put on the annual native plant sale at Morningside Nature Center. This event is organized to increase membership in FNPS and/or the Friends of Nature Parks, to increase awareness of native plants, and to raise money for all three organizations. I hadn't been before so I decided to attend on Friday afternoon to experience it for myself. I was not going to purchase many plants--maybe just a few...

There was a good turn out for the members-only preview on Friday evening.
You couldn't purchase any plants until you showed you membership card and filled out the ordersheet.

On Friday afternoon, there is a preview sale for members of FNPS or the Friends of Nature Parks. If you are not a member, you can join on the spot.

The system is set up so that you need a sales sheet to carry around with you, which is filled out as you purchase plants. The plants are then transferred to the pickup point. You can drive around the loop and pick up your plants after you have paid for them in the cashiers' pavilion.
Craig Huegel selling plants & books

I talked to the 13 vendors to see how they liked this setup. Most of them come year after year and said that this is one of their best venues. I spoke with Craig Huegel whose third book on Florida natives for the shade is eagerly anticipated.

As I visited each vendor, I just picked out a few plants her and a few there. How could I resist flame azaleas (Rhododendron austrinum) for $3? Or a few more rain lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca)? Or maybe just a few nice clumps of hairawn muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)?

I was not particularly expecting to learn anything new, but I was surprised when talking to David Chiappini, who is the coauthor with Gil Nelson of Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants, I discovered that the foundation shrubs that the former owner planted in front of our house are dwarf yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria 'Nana'). This dense shrub is a clone of one male individual with this dense habit. I had assumed that my foundation shrubs, which were probably purchased at Home Depot, were some type of Asian holly. It had never occurred to me that they were native. David said that they've been available to the landscape industry for 30 years.

Dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria 'Nana'). This cultivar has a dense growth pattern and is male.
Lost in the fringe. White fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus).
How can anyone resist these fantastic native azaleas? Sweet pinxter azalea (Rhododendron canescens).
Blue eyes and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium
). Start them young!

The take-home lesson 

What I think is unique about this event is that the members are given special access. I think that FNPS chapters as a group give away our knowledge and access to our meetings and events. And because it's a little uncomfortable, we don't push hard enough to get the users of our outreach to support FNPS financially by joining.

So the take home lesson here, in my opinion, is that by making membership important, the Paynes Prairie Chapter has enticed more people to join.

What has your chapter done to increase membership? Or what membership privileges do you provide?  

My take home lesson

Never expect to leave a native plant sale empty-handed. I spent $50! Always expect to learn something new. Also take the time to stop and appreciate nature. There was a wonderful sunset on the way home--just north of Penney Farms.

Sunset on the way home.
Photos and text by Ginny Stibolt


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