The Garden Club of America


The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies.  ~Gertrude Jekyll


I don’t belong to many clubs nor did I even as a child.  But those I did belong to, 4H and Camp Fire Girls, had a decidedly outdoors, horticulture or farming theme.  And I am sure these clubs influenced my love of nature and gardening.   I do not belong to any clubs these days.  And I know very little about garden clubs, having a very narrow idea of what they do.

So when I received an email from Smithsonian Books asking me to consider reviewing a book about The Garden Club of America (GCA), I actually was not as hesitant as I thought I might be.  After all it is Smithsonian Books making the request.  And I do love history, so why not take a chance as the book was free.  I have to admit, I was interested in finding out more about the GCA as I was completely ignorant of this organization.  I also thought this would make a great book to link in with Holley’s Garden Book Review meme.

I did ask for a second book to give away to one of my readers.   They easily said yes so make sure you leave a comment to be eligible to win.  I will pick a winner by the end of the month on the 31st, and announce the winner in my April 1st post.


The Garden Club of America:

One Hundred Years of a Growing Legacy


Author: William Seale
Paperback:  288 pages
Publisher: Smithsonian Books (March 5, 2013)
Amazon Price: $20.45






In A Few Words

This book is first and foremost about the history of The Garden Club of America.  But its in depth review of the women who founded, led and influenced the organization, also wove a secondary theme throughout the book of the women’s movement in the United States.  The 100 years of the history of the organization is chronicled through the exploration of these women.   It was interesting to learn that these women were considered feminists because they were involved in public activities.

We are taken though the birth of the idea of the GCA, its early history and then throughout the 100 years of their accomplishments. The author, who isCentennial_LOGO a historian, has assembled a wonderful narrative history that shows the many paths the GCA took toward their goals of education and civic improvement.  I was fascinated to learn that the GCA was started in my birth place, Philadelphia, PA, in 1913.  When they started there were but a handful of women and a few member clubs.  Now the organization is made up of 200 member clubs and about 18,000 members.

The vision for the GCA was conceived by the first president, Elizabeth Martin, who wanted to link gardeners across the country due in part to the “rage of gardening” sweeping the country at the time.  Apparently this rage came from the fact that the prominent vegetable gardens from the post-Civil War era were being replaced with flower gardens.  There was a renewed interest in old fashioned flower beds as home owners wanted to get away from standard plantings and sculptured bushes.  Sounds like this same idea has continued to cycle through gardening over the years.

Another fascinating tidbit of information was the original mission statement and the GCA’s committees.

The object of this association shall be to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs; to share the advantages of association through conference and correspondence in this country and abroad; to aid in the protection of native plants and birds; and to encourage civic planting.

IMG_2734Early committees dealt with color charts, flower arranging, a library of garden books and the beautification of highways and towns.  As war approached in 1917, the committees added photography, plant testing, wildflower preservation, medicinal herbs and seedsmen.  They also put together instructions for vegetable gardening according to the latest techniques once WWI broke out.



What I Liked

OK I have to admit I was totally enthralled, fascinated and mesmerized by this historical look at the GCA.  I had no idea how ignorant I was IMG_3355of all their accomplishments both as women and gardeners, and just how influential they remain.  The author’s well researched narrative kept me interested throughout the entire book.  And just when I thought I couldn’t learn anything else, I found I was greatly surprised once again.

Here are a few other interesting facts from the history of the GCA:

  • Preservation of wildflowers was of great interest and had lots of support early in the GCA
  • One of the first public lobby groups of the GCA was against billboards.  Their fight went on for a long time and proved fruitless as we can see with billboards still all over our highways.
  • The 1920s brought an interest in horticulture and flower shows.
  • After WWI, the quarantine of certain bulbs and plants was lifted except for the daffodil which was not lifted until 1947.  The GCA kept up a long battle with Washington, DC and the lobby of American Nurserymen who really were the reason for the ban remaining.
  • The 1930s saw the GCA help with the preservation of California redwoods.
  • 1940 saw aid to England, and thoughts of food shortages here in the US.  The GCA embraced the Victory Garden movement and helped promote it.
  • The 1960s saw the GCA’s voice join in with others opposed to DDT as part of the strong horticulture movement that continued to gain strength to the turn of the 20th century.
  • One of the most interesting sections was on flower arranging and its history within the GCA.  This strong but quiet group had a big surge in the 1950s and 1960s and it continues today.  (It has given me the desire to learn more about flower arranging.)
  • Conservation has always been a strong group within the GCA.  By the 1950s the GCA returned to their core principle, education.  With education they could build political support for their projects like anti-littering.  They were and are leaders in clean air, clean water, toxics, national parks and public land.



Not So Much

IMG_2722This book is for anyone who loves history, the history of gardening, the roots of conservation and women’s early accomplishments.   If these subjects do not fascinate you, then you may not like this book.  But really I encourage everyone to read this book so we do not forget the amazing accomplishments of these women in a time when women were to be seen and not heard.  When they were relegated to the background.  But these women somehow found a voice that continues stronger than ever today.



Final Thoughts

If nothing else I really enjoyed the story of these women who had strong feelings about topics that I am also passionate about today:  preserving our wildflowers/native plants, conservation and the environment, gardening without chemicals and education.

As they say on their website, “The Garden Club of America is a national leader in the fields of horticulture, conservation, and civic improvement.”  After learning so much about the GCA, I think I will check out the local chapter here.




“…It is your responsibility- no, it is your duty- to keep our organization vigorously alive and on the forefront of horticulture, landscape design, flower shows, historic preservation, and conservation throughout this great country.”   Marian Hill, 39th president of The Garden Club of America



Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Garden Club of America-100 Years of a Growing Legacy to review, and the publisher is providing the copy to be given away.


***In honor of the GCA and their desire to preserve wildflowers, I have used pictures of wildflowers from my garden for this post.  The daffodil picture is commemorate the GCA’s fight to import the daffodil.



Next up on the blog:  Wednesday will be the big reveal for Seasonal Celebrations.  Make sure to get your post linked in with a comment.  Monday brings us another Simply the Best-Herb.

I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my most current post now.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2013.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

41 Replies to “The Garden Club of America”

  1. your reviews are always so well written Donna. I like the knowledge that in the US women were at the forefront of the organisation from the beginning, I do not think that is true of the RHS in the UK. You should join; I’m a member of the RHS even though I live in Italy. it is one way to support an organisation for which I have huge respect. Christina

    1. Thanks Christina. I really enjoyed the stories of these women even today. Nice to hear about how others are involved with similar clubs.

  2. Thanks for the review. I didn’t know about Garden Club of America; and, when I first read the title, the image of snobbish ladies with posh behavior and accent just sitting around in lush rooms came in my mind; I would have thought them as some kind of group who would not be interested in all those that you mentioned. So, I guess I should also look into them.

    1. It is an amazing story given these women were wealthy and they took on these important projects continuing even today. I am glad you found the review useful.

  3. A lovely review Donna. This group sounds similar to the Women’s Institute in the UK, although their focus was slightly different.

  4. I like to read the history of gardening-all aspects. I was so thrilled when I was asked to join my garden club back in 2004. To this day it is a great joy for me mainly because we women all have a love of gardening and can share that amongst others. It has opened a lot of doors to me. Right now our civic project is to label the wildflowers along our greenways. We are very excited! Not only do we learn as we go along looking up all the wildflowers but we share that love of gardening with all of the users and help to spread the word out our natural world. Many times I meet so many who just don’t have the time to garden so even the fact that they can enjoy it is a good thing for gardeners. I like Gertrude Jekyll’s quote above. A seed once planted never dies-so very true of a gardening love. I know when I can no longer garden I’ll still be loving it. I guess I am totally off your subject but just wanted to say garden clubs are great but have changed very much over the years. There are even some that have women in them. In our Federation we struggle to get new members. I hope the GCA survives all the changes and suspect it will. Did the book give a prognosis for the future?

    1. Tina it is great to read about all the great experiences and work folks are doing in these garden clubs. Your comment is perfect and right on topic actually. The book did not specifically go into the future of the GCA, but that it continues strong now with so many affiliates and members still doing great work.

  5. I am a member of numerous garden clubs. Master Gardeners is one that is very active in the community. The Lewiston Garden Club is as well and a charter member of Garden Clubs of America. Most don’t think of the women getting out in the community offering education on environmental issues in gardening or planting community gardens to help others, but that is what these clubs do. I rarely report on what we do, but probably should. We do fun things too, like travel to famous gardens and the tea and crumpet lunches, but the hard work is what matters. It is funny, but I wrote a post yet to publish partially on the clubs and the act of doing, and specifically not the passive look. It should generate quite a discussion. I am familiar with this book too. We all got our own copies.

    1. I look forward to reading the post Donna. I think it is important to get the word out to people so they have a clear picture of the work of these clubs.

  6. Great book review Donna. It is posts like this that will encourage gardeners to join their local garden club. In my province we have the Ontario Horticultural Assoc. (of which I am a board member) and it is the umbrella organization for all the horticultural societies in the province. There is also the Garden Clubs of Ontario which is concentrated in the Toronto area I believe.
    Master Gardeners is international, although each State/Prov. is governed by it’s own board and not affiliated with the others.
    I don’t need to be entered for the book thanks, a well-deserving US gardener will certainly appreciate it.

    1. Thanks Judith. It appears there are so many great garden clubs doing amazing work around the world. Great to hear about the wonderful clubs near you.

  7. Two of my clients are members of a GCA-affiliate. A few years back, the national meeting was in Denver, and two busses of women came to Colorado Springs to view gardens. One of the gardens I care for was included in the tour. A very interesting experience. It was about a week before Memorial Day, yet our goal was to have the garden look as full and impeccably put together as if it were late June, and we did! The first group to come through seemed genuinely interested in all this very extensive garden offers. The second group spent most of its time in one spot swapping pedigrees, and didn’t seem to notice where they were. Indeed interesting.

    A wonderfully positive review.

    1. Fascinating Cheryl. I often wonder how I would do in these clubs. I do like what many of the affiliates are doing.

  8. Great review Donna. It is interesting to know that concerns about preserving our wildflowers, conservation and the environment and gardening without chemicals are something that gardeners have passed on through the years.

  9. I would have never thought to read this book without your review, Donna. But you make the book seem so interesting, so it is going on my ever-expanding wish list. I recently attended a garden club meeting, and was very impressed. Now I think I should know a bit more about the history of GCA. And you have piqued my interest about the chapter on flower arranging. Thanks for joining in!

  10. This is an interesting review. I just joined a local garden club last year and had to look up whether we are part of GCA. No, we’re part of National Garden Clubs, Inc. I’ll have to learn more about each. Thanks Donna!

    1. It seems there are so many wonderful garden clubs that are doing great things. It is great to know they are still so active in our communities.

  11. I, too, applaud and appreciate these women for all the hard work they put into so many gardens. It is so nice to hear that they are recognized somewhere. A great post, Donna.

  12. Fascinating group and impressive accomplishments are quite a bit different from what I would have guessed before reading your review. That they were focused on preserving native plants so early on is great to know.

    1. So glad you were able to learn about these wonderful women. I too was so surprised by the same idea that they were interested in preservation of wildflowers and natives.

    1. Fascinating how the women here were pioneers in so many ways. I had always thought that men had dominated as well until I read this book.

  13. I’m a history buff, so you had me at hello, as it were. I’ll also be interested in the wildflowers and roadside stories. I love to see hedgerows and wildflowers as I drive down the road. In recent times farmers were pulling out hedges and ploughing up verges in my old home area in England. More recently the government has encouraged them to let the roadside areas reseed as nature chooses. There is also a scheme to leave churchyards in a natural state. I can’t wait to find out what methods the GCA ladies used to promote the cause.

    1. Fascinating how England is trying to preserve things. I love when we let nature alone…she seems to do a fine job…

  14. I have that book too….and I am not a history buff and wished for more inspiration from it. I am glad you enjoyed it so!
    Thanks for linking in this week…I hope to see you again soon!
    I am sharing this post on Tootsie Time facebook page!
    ¸.•´¸.•*¨) ¸.•*¨)
    (¸.•´ (¸.•´ .•´ ¸¸.•¨¯`•.

  15. Donna, Thanks so much for this review. I teach a course on the history of women’s movements in the United States, but somehow I had never run across the GCA as part of that history. Now I’m excited to read this and learn more!

    1. Fascinating book Jean. I will be announcing the winner on Monday so perhaps you might win it. Regardless it is a great history!!

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