BY ANITA RUFF, Oasis Free Clinics Executive Director
Like many days over the past few weeks (months?!), last Saturday morning was humid, damp and misty. A storm had rolled through the Midcoast in the wee hours, and I had been awakened to a downpour accompanied by flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder.
“Please let this pass by us now and end soon,” I thought, frantically sending a silent prayer to Mother Nature at 2 a.m. before falling back to sleep.
While most of us have been commenting or complaining about the rainy weather, I had been particularly obsessed more than usual. Why? Last Saturday was the Oasis Free Clinics’ largest fundraising event, Brunswick in Bloom – a garden tour. While good weather isn’t a requirement for a garden tour, it does make for a more pleasant experience. It also helps with ticket sales.
For the 10 days prior to the tour, I watched the weather reports closely. If I didn’t like one report, I found another one that looked more positive. The Brunswick in Bloom Committee members and I texted, emailed and called each other several times throughout the week, and every communication had at least one reference to the weather. The same was true for emails with the gardeners and tour attendees.
Everyone had rain and weather on top of their mind.
Would we have the right conditions for a successful garden tour? On Saturday morning, eight gardeners welcomed hundreds of people to tour their spectacular gardens (and a remodeled Airstream camper!) – all in support of Oasis’ free medical, dental, vision, mental health and prescription services.
Wearing raincoats, plastic ponchos and rubber boots, attendees arrived in the drizzle to admire the beauty of the flowers and landscaping.
As the weather cleared up and the sun slowly emerged, attendees began to linger at the gardens, asking the gardeners lots of questions about plants, soil conditions and hardscaping. They also began chatting with each other, joking about who was following whom, sharing notes on which garden was not to be missed, and asking if they would see each other at the post-tour garden party. The garden party itself was delightful, too. Held outside under canopies and surrounded by beautiful gardens, the garden party served as an opportunity to meet others who had gone on the tour, to talk more with the gardeners, and to share one’s own gardening tips. It brought together gardening novices and experts, connected longtime residents with seasonal neighbors, and introduced new members of our community to each other.
By the end of the day, the sun was shining, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
I have spent the past couple of days thinking about Brunswick in Bloom and reflecting on the lessons to be learned.
The first is something one of the attendees emailed to me. After I sent her the tour information and making a comment about the weather, Darlene sent an enthusiastic response of, “I’ll be there rain or shine!”
Darlene reminded me what I had failed to remember in the days leading up to Brunswick in Bloom: This is a community that comes together, in the good and bad.
The second thing I have been thinking about is a conversation I had with one of the gardeners. We had just met for the first time on Saturday, and yes, we were talking about the weather. I said I hoped people would show up and would have a good time, and she said something to the effect of, “With gardening, you work with what you have, not what you wish for. You learn to be flexible, to let go.”
Maybe that’s why everyone who attended Brunswick in Bloom was kind and relaxed, unbothered by the weather. Perhaps as gardeners themselves, they already understood that little in life is within our control and to worry about that which isn’t is unnecessary.
The third thing I have been mulling over since Saturday is how, in the process of raising money for Oasis, I got to watch friendships form, community develop, and connections happen, right in front of me. When we conceived of Brunswick in Bloom, it seemed like a good pandemic-proof fundraiser – one that would get people outside, walking around, and exploring our community. It also just seemed like it would be fun. Plus, flowers are pretty.
Now, two years into this event, I see how it is so much more. Local businesses were sponsors, as well as donated goods to make the tour possible.
This year, we offered an opportunity for community members to purchase a ticket so that Oasis patients could attend the garden tour.
The response was great, and it was really awesome to see patients wandering through the gardens. We had many people attend this year that went on last year’s tour, and it was fun to say hi to them, chat about the differences in gardens, and catch up.
We had people ride their bikes between the gardens this year, for both exercise and to reduce environmental impact. We met attendees who had managed a free clinic in Kentucky and wanted to support Oasis. A local musician showed up and played her guitar in the background at one of the gardens. One of our gardeners is also one of our mental health volunteers; she provides free counseling to our patients. One of our gardener’s husbands pulled me aside to thank me for including their garden on the tour, saying that his wife puts her heart into their gardens, and it was wonderful that people are finally seeing all of her beautiful work.
All this is to say, that while Brunswick in Bloom is a fundraising garden tour for Oasis Free Clinics, it also a reflection of our community and the people in it. There is a spirit of generosity and willingness to help that is unique to the Midcoast. Oasis was created almost 30 years ago, thanks to those community values. We continue to serve patients today – almost 500 of them – and will continue to be here as long as the need for our services exist.
Planning has already started for Brunswick in Bloom 2024, and we are excited for you to see what’s developing – come rain or shine.
Anita Ruff is executive director of Oasis Free Clinics, a nonprofit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing patient centered care to uninsured adults living in Freeport, Durham, Harpswell, Brunswick and Sagadahoc County. For more information, visit OasisFreeClinics.org or call (207) 721-9277.