London Grove Friends Meeting
500 West Street Road and Newark Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348 (Calendar & Directions)
Matriarch of the London Grove Plant Sale
In May of each year London Grove Meeting hosts a plant sale to benefit community organizations near and far. Every year for the past 46, that is. Little did Elinor Thomforde know when she offered to pot some of the diggings from her perennial garden to sell at the Meeting’s Roast Beef Supper that this seed would grow into the event of today.
In 1973, the London Grove Peace Committee received an appeal from the Pearl Buck Fund to send money to support needy orphanages in Vietnam. At the time, the committee did not set aside money for special needs of this kind. Feeling the urgency of the request, the committee tried to brainstorm ways to raise the funds. At the time, Mrs. Thomforde, a lifelong resident of Unionville and member of London Grove, was moving a perennial bed and thought perhaps someone might pay for the divided plants from her garden. They sold 3 or 4-dozen plants that year, making a profit of about $35 (an amount which Elinor remembers as more significant then than it sounds.) And because each year perennials multiply, the sale was easy to replicate the following year. At the sale’s inception, Elinor was 40 years old.
The patrons of the sale requested flowering plants: so the addition of annuals was made the following year. As the years passed, and more help was needed, Elinor recruited more Meeting members to help. Even her husband, Harold, with whom Elinor owned the Stone Barn catering business, graciously lent their box truck for moving the plants. Experience taught that the waxed chicken boxes from the Stone Barn chicken dinners were sturdy carriers for moving the purchased plants for the sale. Their orchard tent offered additional housing for tender plants. And so the sale continued.
Eventually, the Pearl Buck fund was no longer able to get money into Vietnam, so the sale proceeds were sent instead to the American Friends Service Committee in Washington, DC for child relief. As the proceeds of the sale increased, local agencies were included as additional recipients of the funds. Today the sale is a Meeting wide effort of many members working tirelessly to prepare for sale day. Since 2004 alone, the London Grove Plant Sale has raised over $287,000 benefitting some 12 Friends and local organizations.
Today, at 86, Elinor still digs plants each year to sell at the sale in addition to ordering plants to fill out the offerings and giving sage advise on gardening the day of the sale. “I think I only dug a few hundred plants this year,” Elinor informs (she tore ligaments in her foot digging.) “But a year or so ago I dug about 1000 plants.” And at the sale’s end, she takes any leftover plants home to add to her own garden: which are tended lovingly so they can be sold next year. “The white geraniums I dig each year are stock from plants I was able to propagate from the sale.” She is indeed the matriarch.