The Garden Club of America

100 Years of a Growing Legacy

By: William Seale

ImageThe Garden Club of America turns 100 years old in 2013 and over the last century it has been a leader in horticulture, education, conservation and civic beautification. These strong women with a vision set about changing the American landscape and were even influencing Congress years before they were granted the right to vote.

This is a remarkable book and even if you're not a member of the GCA, the influence of this organization is impressive world-wide. They were barely organized before The Great War (WWI) swept across Europe. Efforts to educate people in growing and preserving food took precedence over flower shows and garden tours. They landscaped military barracks and held nursery companies that supplied inferior seeds to wartime gardens accountable.

The GCA was instrumental in saving the giant redwoods of northern California and actually purchased thousands of acres of what we now know as protected park lands. Local clubs raised money via publishing cookbooks, plant sales, lectures, garden tours and thrift stores. This remarkable effort initially established a protected grove of 2,552 acres in northern California, which has been expanded over the years.

Highway beautification was another undertaking that they dove into and were quite vocal in demanding that advertising billboards be removed from some of our most scenic vistas. They also coined the term ‘litterbug' and urged motorists to keep the roadways clear of trash.

When World War II was devastating Europe, the GCA was at the front of the war effort long before the US entered the fray. They gathered seeds and relief packages for Great Britain and tirelessly worked to ease the suffering of the British people. After Pearl Harbor, the GCA was instrumental in establishing the Victory Garden movement here in the US and tirelessly taught gardening, preserving and cooking classes, even experimented with the recently introduced ‘freezing machines' as an alternate way of conserving the harvest. They stepped up their relief efforts for Europe and ultimately sent over 6 tons of seeds to establish vegetable gardens in the war-torn areas. It was estimated at one point that 85% to 90% of the seeds planted in Great Britain during the war came from the GCA efforts.

After the war and through the following decades, the GCA focused on education and conservation, calling attention to the unscrupulous vendors stripping the fields and forests of our wildflowers and plants. They were among the first to refuse to purchase wild-harvested plants and urged garden vendors to disclose their sources.

The Garden Club of America standardized flower shows and judging, holding workshops and publishing guides that helped local clubs produce an event that was not only beautiful, but educational as well.

IImagenitially, the GCA consisted of wealthy women with large formal gardens and the time and means to travel. However, their efforts and vision shouldn't be lessened just because of their station. In today's world, they would be accountants, doctors, lawyers and CEO's . (And often are) While the majority of the membership has always been female, many men have belonged to the GCA from the beginning as well. It is an extraordinary organization that has emerged into the 21st Century healthy and growing every day.

This quote from Mrs. Roland Tileston of the Diggers Club in Pasadena, CA upon visiting the GCA Redwood Grove during the war sums up how many of us feel about what we do:

"Ignoring the fact that we did not know where we could find a place to sleep...we stopped and walked far in to that quiet, wonderful place. I wish each Garden Club member might have shared my experience. All the women who have said ‘goodbye' to sons or husbands and those who have undertaken work beyond their strength would have found peace for a time and spiritual power in those calm, strong and stately trees. They seem to have become a cathedral guarding America's gifts...and inspiration and faith for all of us."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am quite pleased to have it in my library.

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