FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — Jan Lutz started gardening 23 years ago after her husband, George, died.

"Moving things around, getting my hands in that dirt. It is wonderful therapy," the Fremont woman said.

On Aug. 28, Lutz was in a garden, but not the one at her house.

She and several other plant enthusiasts were working in the May Museum Victorian Garden in Fremont. The group of gardeners worked steadily as gray skies seemed to threaten rain. Wet weather had kept them from the garden during the past two weeks and there was plenty to do.

But this is a hearty group — and one whose roots of friendship go deep.

The Fremont Tribune reports that group members, who meet all year long either in the garden or at Hy-Vee for coffee, have grown together as friends who've supported each other throughout the years.

"We're a group that loves to get our hands dirty," Lutz said.

Group members range from those in their 40s to one active gardener who is 86.

And they're always looking for new transplants of various ages.

"We need the younger ones," Lutz said. "We need those stronger legs and arms."

The Victorian garden, situated on the west side of May Museum, was started in 1982 and today features a variety of plants — most of which are perennials. There also are annuals.

"You've got to have color in the fall," Lutz explained.

There are the flowers of yesteryear, but more modern varieties, too.

Flowers include day lilies, daisies, hostas, balloon flowers, poppies, iris and tulips. Different flowers bloom at different times.

"We try to have something in bloom all the time," Lutz said. "We each take certain plots and put our own personalities in those plots."

If everyone shows up, there are 22 gardeners, who come to work every Tuesday.

In the summer, they come at 8 a.m. and work until the weather is too hot. In the spring, they come at 9 and work until about 11 a.m.

They meet at Hy-Vee for coffee and conversation when it's raining or in the winter.

"It's a wonderful support group," Lutz said. "We've gone through deaths and illnesses."

Group members have supplied meals when a gardener is having health problems. They've helped people learn about gardening and encouraged one another.

Members like Marlene McClean appreciate the group.

"I love gardening and I really enjoy the ladies who are out here, because we all enjoy gardening," McClean said. "Some of the ladies are very knowledgeable about plants and I learn a lot from them."

Jan Jelkin's appreciation for the group has grown, too.

"I always wanted to learn how to garden and about 20 years ago, I came here and fell in love with the ladies and the garden," she said.

Besides gardening, group members celebrate birthdays once a month and Linda Ryan makes the cakes. They attend each other's church functions.

Garden tasks vary depending on the season.

In the spring, the group cleans up the garden. They dig up plants that need dividing and pot them.

The potted plants go to the museum's garden sale, which takes place the first Saturday in May.

"That has turned into a fun, fun time," Lutz said. "We basically spend the month of April potting plants and we do order plants and sell them. We don't sell anything but perennials."

They try to get uncommon plants.

"We try to get different colors, different varieties so we have a lot of return trade, because they know we do this," Lutz said.

After the sale, the gardeners have lunch together.

Plant sale proceeds are used to buy mulch, fertilizer or other needed garden items. Plants that haven't sold are put in a holding bin for sale the next year.

Some of those plants are used in the garden plots, if needed.

Summer is a time of planting and weeding.

"Every week, we get together to weed and have coffee," Lutz said. "That's what we do all summer. When fall hits, that's when it's time to start cutting plants down and get the garden ready for winter."

If bulbs are needed, they're planted in the fall.

And the garden is cleaned up so it's ready for spring when flowers from the planted bulbs begin coming up.

Fall is fun for another reason.

"We always take one day to come to my house to clean my garage, because I have all the signs for the plant sale, I have all the pots we use for digging and potting, and all the boxes. I have everything we use for our sale in my garage and they straighten it and pitch what we aren't going to need for the next year," Lutz said.

Jelkin has the group out for a brunch at her cabin. Jeff Kappeler, museum curator, has a Christmas party for the group in January.

The group's efforts have reaped other rewards — namely the appreciation of the public.

"People come through and bring lunches and sit out there," Lutz said. "Even one of the little school kids said if she's in a bad mood, she'll come to the garden and sit and it quiet helps her."

The gardeners plan to continue their work.

"I think it helps keep us young," Lutz said. "It keeps us active. It fosters those friendships and yet we're doing something to help the museum, help the city and be of service to the community."

Lutz still remembers how gardening helped her all those years ago.

"There's a peace that comes with gardening and to me it was a way to commune with God," she said. "It was something productive and it kept me going."

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Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com