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.

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