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2024 GCA National Medalists

Congratulations to the ten 2024 national medalists! These outstanding examples of conservation, horticulture, civic improvement, and historic preservation excellence are being awarded the GCA’s highest honor for their commitment to areas that align with our mission. The Garden Club of America has a long-standing tradition of celebrating extraordinary efforts to protect and beautify our world. The medals will be presented at the GCA’s 111th annual meeting in April in Hartford, CT.

Gilbert Butler

Outdoor Enthusiast, Environmental Philanthropist, and Conservation Educator

The Margaret Douglas Medal awarded for notable service to the cause of conservation education will be presented to Gilbert Butler for opening hundreds of thousands of acres to the public and educating young people on how to interact with and enjoy nature.

Gilbert Butler is an accomplished outdoorsman and highly regarded environmental philanthropist who is passionate about opening vast, beautiful parcels of land in the United States and South America for public recreation and enjoyment.

These lands bought through his Butler Conservation Fund are turned into multi-use recreational trails and nature parks for outdoor education and public use. The aim of these investments is to encourage people to get outside and be active.

Gilbert shuns the spotlight and wants the conservation projects his talented team undertakes to speak for themselves. These projects focus on what he calls “legacy geographies.” These are areas that have ecological significance, natural beauty, and offer opportunities for healthy outdoor recreation. Examples include the Adirondack region and Shawangunk Ridge in Upstate New York, Mount Katahdin and Cobscook Bay in Maine, low country coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia, and the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina.

To further efforts to provide outdoor education to young people, Gilbert founded the Butler Outdoor Education Fund in 2011. This fund provides school-age children with free outdoor education and recreational opportunities. Programs combine outdoor activity with lessons in the sciences and history with the hope of instilling a love of outdoor recreation while fostering environmental stewardship.

Using his business acumen and passion, Gilbert has created a legacy for the organizations and geographies he values and for the people, especially young people, who are touched by these beautiful areas and what they can teach.

Proposed by Garden Club of Mount Desert, Zone I.

Tom Campion

Philanthropist, Conservationist, and Environmentalist

The Frances K. Hutchinson Medal awarded to figures of national importance for distinguished service to conservation will be awarded to Tom Campion for his environmental activism and internationally lauded work to protect irreplaceable wilderness areas.

Tom Campion is a successful businessman who has devoted his resources and passion to protect our environment and safeguard important wilderness areas like the more than 19 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for future generations. President Barack Obama called him a powerful, principled leader whose work would help leave our children and grandchildren with “a safer, cleaner, and more sustainable planet.” 

He chairs Zumiez the world's largest action sports retailer which he co-founded in 1978. In 2005 he and his wife Sonya founded the Campion Foundation to protect the wilderness, address homelessness, and strengthen the nonprofit sector.
Realizing philanthropy was not enough, in 2014 Tom and Sonya founded the Campion Advocacy Fund that has harnessed an effective network of supporting organizations and invested in efforts to preserve landscapes in Alaska and the American West. The fund has also supported the publication of books, films, and museum exhibits informing people about crucial conservation and environmental issues. These efforts include the stunning award-winning film The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness. Screened in IMAX theaters, the film was supported by a national communications campaign to raise awareness that keeping carbon in the ground rather than drilling was essential to addressing the climate crisis.

Tom has been recognized for his conservation and environmental efforts including receiving the 2016 Environmental Leadership Award from the League of Conservation Voters. A founding board member of Conservation Northwest, he is chairman emeritus of the Alaska Wilderness League and is active in The Wilderness Society.

Tom Campion is a true environmental champion who according to Washington Governor Jay Inslee has done more than anyone on the globe to save the Arctic. 

Proposed by Iris Wagner, Seattle Garden Club, Zone XII

Sir Peter Crane

Visionary Horticulturalist, Scientist, and Scholar

The Medal of Honor awarded for outstanding service to horticulture will be given to Sir Peter Crane for his substantial contributions to horticulture, botany, and biology.

Sir Peter Crane, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2004 for his service to horticulture and conservation, currently serves as president of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation. The primary focus of this operating foundation is to ensure Rachel “Bunny” Mellon’s Virginia home, garden, and estate are used for public programs related to plants, gardens, and landscapes—especially for programs centered around the extensive botanical library and its collections.

Under Peter’s visionary leadership, he and his team have worked hard to build goodwill through civic outreach, inclusive and compelling programming, and educational opportunities while fulfilling the wishes of the foundation’s benefactor.
Before his tenure at Oak Spring, Peter was the dean and professor of Botany at Yale University, a professor of Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, director, and chief executive of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew in London, and had a 17-year tenure, including serving as director, at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

As a scholar, he has authored hundreds of research papers and presentations, edited numerous volumes on plants and gardens, and written three influential books including Gingko: The Tree That Time Forgot. Japan’s Emperor Akito led the ceremony where Peter was awarded the International Prize for Biology in 2014.

Whether in the garden, the classroom, or on the page, Peter’s distinguished work has made a lasting impact in all facets of horticulture, botany, and biology.

Proposed by Perennial Garden Club, Zone VI

Rick Darke

International Plant Explorer and Visionary Garden Storyteller

The Florens DeBevoise Medal awarded for outstanding achievement in horticulture and/or education in horticulture will be given to Rick Darke for his outstanding work as a horticulture expert, garden storyteller, and educator.

Rick Darke spent the first 20 years of his career at Longwood Gardens where he worked his way up to Curator of Plants. This led him to use his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and ecosystems to travel the world as a plant explorer. 

Today he leads his own company, Rick Darke LLC, and works as a landscape design consultant, author, lecturer, and photographer based in Pennsylvania who blends art, ecology, and cultural geography in the creation and conservation of livable landscapes. He has consulted and collaborated on numerous public landscapes from New York’s High Line to Gravetye Manor in Sussex.

A gifted communicator and photographer who writes and speaks compellingly, Rick shares his love of plants and garden design through numerous books, lectures, talks, and tours.

The co-authors on two of Rick’s nine books are GCA medalists Piet Oudolf and Doug Tallamy. With Piet, he co-wrote and took the photographs for Gardens of the High Line and with Doug, he co-wrote The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden. Two of his books, The American Woodland Garden and the Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes won the American Horticultural Society’s Book Award.

He is a generous and enthusiastic teacher. Whether he is teaching students at the University of Delaware or speaking to a garden club, he challenges and engages his audience.

Rick deeply cares for plants and the gardeners who love them and is committed to sharing his vast knowledge to cultivate livable landscapes both large and small for all.

Proposed by Kay McConnell, Guilford Garden Club, Zone VI

Lisa W. Ott

Passionate, Dedicated, and Connected Environmentalist

The Achievement Medal awarded in recognition of outstanding achievement and in tribute to creative vision and ability in the interpretation and furtherance of the aims of The Garden Club of America will be awarded to Lisa Ott for her dedication to the environment and for personifying the GCA’s values and the power of association.

Lisa Ott has dedicated herself personally and professionally to the environment devoting herself to protecting our land and water and educating others to do so as well. 

Twenty years ago, she helped found the North Shore Land Alliance. Since then, she has served as the 400-member organization’s only president and CEO which has grown to a staff of 12 and 225 volunteers. Under her leadership, the organization has protected more than 1,300 acres of environmentally significant land and operates 14 public nature preserves. This work was built on an earlier effort to pass an environmental bond act in Nassau County. Her creative outreach and education efforts have allowed a diverse range of residents to connect with nature and learn how they can help protect our land, air, and water.

Lisa is equally passionate about conservation and conservation education in her impressive volunteer efforts within the GCA. She has served as her club’s Conservation and NAL chair and served in various leadership positions on the GCA’s Conservation Committee for seven years before serving as chair of the National Affairs & Legislative Committee. She was a driving force behind the passage of The Great American Outdoors Act, considered to be the most important conservation legislation in 50 years. She wrote the position paper and “Call to Action” that rallied club members to advocate for the successful passage of the act that reinvests in national parks, funds water and land conservation, and provides new parks and trails.

Lisa Ott embodies the best of the GCA and serves as a visionary role model for us all.

Proposed by North Country Garden Club of Long Island, Zone III

Anne “Dede” Neal Petri

Gardener, Creator, Advocator

The Distinguished Service Medal awarded for distinguished service in the field of horticulture will be awarded to Dede Petri for her tireless service on behalf of plants and the spaces created to showcase them.

Dede Petri, who served as the 42nd president of The Garden Club of America, personifies the GCA’s motto Garden, Create, Advocate. She continually reminds us by her words and deeds that the "GCA represents the voice of the plants,” a phrase she coined that captures our essence.

Currently, she speaks on behalf of plants as the president of the Olmsted Network, the “first and only national organization dedicated to championing Olmsted parks, places, and principles through advocacy, education, and stewardship.” Beginning in 2020 Dede led efforts across the country to celebrate Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday in 2022 and to raise awareness and support for his astounding legacy that stretches from coast to coast.

A lawyer by training, Dede has been a leader in whatever volunteer or professional endeavors she has put her considerable energy and talents towards. In addition to leading the GCA and the Olmsted Network, she was the co-founder of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and general counsel and congressional liaison for the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Plants are at the root of Dede’s achievements in horticulture, conservation, and civic improvement including launching the GCA’s Restoration Initiative, restoring the Olmsted Woods at the Washington National Cathedral, and preserving the Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Institution. Inside and outside of the GCA she has been an ardent advocate for plants, parks, and preservation.

As 2021 GCA medalist Laurie Olin puts it, "Dede has the soul of the gardener... the vision of a planner, [and] the heart of a teacher."  

Proposed by Georgetown Garden Club, Zone VI

Warrie Price

Innovative Civic Leader and Historic Preservationist 

The Historic Preservation Medal awarded for outstanding work in the field of preservation and/or restoration of historic gardens or buildings of national importance will be awarded to Warrie Price for her monumental work restoring and revitalizing New York’s Battery Park.

Warrie Price, founder and president of The Battery Conservancy has committed her life to civic service and historic preservation. Today she is credited with rebuilding the southern tip of Manhattan. The Battery was in a sorry state 30 years ago. But Warrie had a vision for the historical 23-acre site she calls “the doorstep to America.” Where others saw ruins she saw a rich history and untapped promise.

Under Warrie’s leadership the tired and forlorn landscape, including a neglected national monument, was rescued from further decay. After raising $170 million via public-private partnerships, the entire area has been revitalized and Castle Clinton, a 19th-century fort, has been restored. A landscape that was once asphalt and cement has been transformed into a horticultural oasis that attracts more than 7 million visitors annually. 
Warrie had the foresight to tap Piet Oudolf for his first garden design in the United States before Lurie Garden in Chicago or New York’s High Line. The largest free park in North America, today the Battery’s gardens include 240,000 square feet of perennials, a seven-acre woodland, an urban farm, a glass carousel, 90,000 square feet of toxin-free lawn, and a children’s playscape that contains 40,000 square feet of gardens divided into five zones: bluff, marsh, meadow, riverfront, and dune. After 9/11 the park became a refuge and beacon of hope, and it continues to welcome people every day of the year.

Prior to founding the conservancy, Warrie was a founder of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, worked in the US Foreign Service, completed a Master of Public Administration from Harvard, and held various civic leadership positions in NYC.

Warrie shows that the best of the past can have a future and has created a model for successful urban historic preservation and revitalization.

Proposed by Pamela Sherlock, Three Harbors Garden Club, Zone III

David A. Rubin 

Empathetic and Holistic Urban Landscape Designer

The Elvira Broome Doolan Medal, given in recognition of innovative work in landscape architecture with emphasis on city planning and civic improvement in urban areas, will be presented to David Rubin for his holistic and innovative approach to urban design and development.

David Rubin believes “design can save the world” and “life is what happens between buildings.” He is a scholar, 2011 GCA Rome Prize winner, landscape architect, and founder of the David Rubin Land Collective, a landscape architecture, urban design, and planning studio. 

His studio emphasizes cross-disciplinary collaboration where a holistic approach that synthesizes art, technology, and social science leads to sustainable design and development. He is lauded for practicing socially purposeful and “empathy-driven” design that fuses social justice with excellence in the design of public spaces. 

David’s varied projects include being tapped by the United States World War I Centennial Commission to assist with incorporating the National World War I Memorial into Washington DC’s Pershing Park. The completed memorial serves as a touching tribute to those who fought in WWI as well as a welcoming urban oasis in the nation’s capital. 
David’s work has received awards and honors from the American Society of Landscape Architects and the American Institute of Architects. Currently, he serves on a US government advisory group on best practices in landscape architecture.

Through the power of great design, David is changing the way people interact in urban spaces.

Proposed by Hancock Park Garden Club, Zone XII

Save the Sound

Sound Environmental Stewards 

The Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Medal awarded for outstanding achievement in environmental protection and the maintenance of the quality of life will be presented to Save the Sound.

For 50 years Save the Sound has been committed to protecting and improving the land, air, and water in Connecticut, Southern New York, and Long Island Sound. Through legal, engineering, and scientific means, it works to protect the environment so that people and wildlife can enjoy a healthy and clean environment for generations to come.

Organizationally Save the Sound is committed to supporting effective stewardship and environmental action and ensuring its internal operations as well as its programming support a diverse and equitable world.

The breadth and depth of its toolkit sets Save the Sound apart from other regional nonprofits. It successfully uses a combination of legislative advocacy, legal action, engineering, and scientific environmental monitoring as well as hands-on volunteer and educational efforts to protect this important region. It does not work alone. It takes a collaborative approach working alongside other environmental and volunteer organizations to restore and protect the area’s rivers, shorelines, wetlands, forests, air, and water.

In this way Save the Sound demonstrates the power of association and exemplifies the GCA’s purpose to “restore, improve, and protect the quality of the environment through educational programs and action in the fields of conservation and civic improvement.” 

Proposed by Greenwich Garden Club, Zone II

Bren Smith

Regenerative Farmer Feeding the World

The Amy Angell Collier Montague Medal awarded for outstanding civic achievement will be given to Bren Smith for changing how we sustainably farm and feed people and impacting how we interact with each other and the world.

Bren Smith is a regenerative ocean farming pioneer. He became an ocean farmer in the 1990s after becoming disillusioned with traditional commercial fishing practices that were devastating the environment with overfishing and pollution. Bren knew there had to be a more sustainable way forward and envisioned a new blue-green economy that produces healthy food and protects the environment.

Today he is the owner of Thimble Island Ocean Farm, the world’s first multi-species 3D ocean farm, and the director of GreenWave, a global network of regenerative ocean farmers, “breathing life back into our planet.” 

After many years of experimentation, Bren developed an innovative vertical farming system that allows fast-growing kelp to be grown vertically, maximizing sunlight and space. The kelp supports the other nutrient-dense “crops” of mussels, oysters, and shrimp. Among other things, environmentally friendly kelp can be used as food, biofuel, fertilizer, and animal feed.

This system is a game changer. It has won numerous awards and accolades including the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for ecological design, and the Clinton Global Initiative Award for ocean innovation. He has also been recognized by the White House, the UN, and the World Economic Forum.

He is the author of Eat Like a Fish – My Adventures Farming the Ocean to Fight Climate Change, a guide to saving our oceans and feeding people. It also shows the way to create good jobs for working-class Americans.
Bren Smith is showing the world how to build a climate-resilient food system that supports “making a living on a living planet.” Now that’s a civic achievement we can all get behind. 

Proposed by Garden Club of New Haven, Zone II