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2020 GCA National Medalists

The Archives of American Gardens

Washington, DC

The Distinguished Service Medal is awarded for distinguished service in the field of horticulture and will be awarded to The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens, a priceless treasure documenting America’s gardens.

The Archives of American Gardens (AAG) was founded at the Smithsonian Institution in 1987 with a deposit from The Garden Club of America of 3,500 glass lantern slides, and today the AAG is an essential resource for historic preservationists, researchers, landscape designers, students, and garden enthusiasts. The collection of approximately 10,000 documented gardens, including 65,000 photographic images and records, provides a diverse range of garden designs. The records date from the 1920s up to the present and chronicle historic and contemporary gardens throughout the United States. Included are gardens ranging from small to large, simple to ornate, and decorative to utilitarian. These archives foster a better understanding of gardening’s far-reaching contributions to America’s social and cultural history.

Proposed by Cynthia Rubin, Sasqua Garden Club, Zone II 

Charles Birnbaum

Washington, D.C.

The Historic Preservation Medal is awarded for outstanding work in the field of preservation and/or restoration of historic gardens or buildings of national importance and will be awarded to Charles Birnbaum in recognition of his passionate work to save hundreds of at-risk landscapes across the country.

Charles Birnbaum founded The Cultural Landscape Foundation in 1998 to inspire local citizens to save the cultural landscapes in their hometowns, as well as to chronicle the accomplishments of significant landscape designers, and to honor accomplished landscape architects. His successes include preserving the 1977 Russell Page garden at the Frick Collection, among many others. Mr. Birnbaum is an inspiration to those who value the arts, landscapes, and history, and his work encourages us to appreciate great public places and works of landscape architecture just as we appreciate great buildings. His passion and charisma drive his work, and it has had a generational impact for the betterment of society. 


Proposed by Indianapolis Garden Club, Zone X

Arabella Dane

Center Harbor, New Hampshire

The Achievement Medal is 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 and will be awarded to Arabella Dane for her outstanding contributions to horticulture, floral design, and photography.

Arabella Dane is a 30+ year member of the North Shore Garden Club of Massachusetts and the Beacon Hill Garden Club, and she excels in horticulture, floral design, and photography. Mrs. Dane generously shares her passions, talents, and knowledge with club members from across the country, inspiring them with her creativity and kindness. She was instrumental in establishing the GCA Photography Committee, making photography an important component of flower shows. Importantly, she launched the reference resource, a comprehensive guide that lists photos and the botanical and common names of over 100,000 plants and over 800 species of butterflies, an indispensable tool for gardeners and academics. Her vision and talents truly make her a “Renaissance Woman.”


Proposed by Vicki Saltonstall, Chestnut Hill Garden Club, Zone I

Desert Botanical Garden

Phoenix, Arizona

The Eloise Payne Luquer Medal is awarded for special achievement in the field of botany that may include medical research, the fine arts, or education. The interpretation of the award is to be elastic and imaginative and will be awarded to the Desert Botanical Garden for its exceptional work in the field of botany.

The Desert Botanical Garden (DBG), founded in 1937, pursues its mission to research, conserve, exhibit, and educate people about plants from arid areas around the world, especially the plants of the Sonoran Desert. With 25,000 plants and over 4,000 species, the DBG engages in world-class botanical work, collaborating with the Center for Plant Conservation, by maintaining a National Collection of Endangered Plants, including 58 imperiled species, an Herbarium with 83,000 specimens, and a seed bank with frozen seed and pollen. Annually, over 700,000 visitors experience the beauty of desert plants and, through robust educational programs, learn about the environment, natural history, horticulture, gardening, and landscaping.


Proposed by Arizona Columbine Garden Club, Zone XII

John Gaston Fairey

Hempstead, Texas

The Florens DeBevoise Medal is awarded for horticultural achievement in the fields of hybridizing, collecting or nurturing, with preference to plant material suitable for rock gardens and will be awarded to John Gaston Fairey for his remarkable horticultural conservation.

John Gaston Fairey is a plant explorer, educator, artist, and expert horticulturist who is noted for hybridizing, collecting, and nurturing rare and endangered plants. A plantsman extraordinaire, Mr. Fairey created the Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation in Hempstead, TX, where horticulturists, students, landscape architects, and ecologists study diverse plant material from Mexico, Texas, and Asia. The Peckerwood gardens, designed by Mr. Fairey, combine dramatic shapes and textures of little known plants. He has led over 100 expeditions to northeastern Mexico, and through his Yucca Do Nursery, he has introduced new species and hybrids of magnolias, yuccas, palms, conifers, grasses, and agaves. His contributions to horticultural conservation and teaching are inspirational and far-reaching.


Proposed by Nancy S. Thomas, The Garden Club of Houston, Zone IX

Michael Forsberg

Lincoln, Nebraska

The J. Sherwood Chalmers Medal is awarded for outstanding achievement in the field of photography and/or photography education as it relates to the purpose of The Garden Club of America and will be awarded to Michael Forsberg for his exceptional photographs of the Great Plains. 

Michael Forsberg, a Nebraska native, has devoted 25 years to photographing America’s Great Plains, covering 100,000 miles across twelve states and three Canadian provinces. Through the beauty of Mr. Forsberg’s photographs, he communicates why the Great Plains matter, and his fascination with Sandhill Cranes led to five years of documenting their migration and the publication of On Ancient Wings: The Sandhill Cranes of North America in 2004. His meticulous research and patience lead to the “perfect shot,” and his work and voice call for conservation action and bring the magic of nature to the minds and souls of all who see them.


Proposed by Loveland Garden Club, Zone XI

Gregory Long

New York, New York

The Medal of Honor is awarded for outstanding service to horticulture and will be awarded to Gregory Long for his visionary leadership of the New York Botanical Garden.

Gregory Long served for 29 years as the chief executive officer of the New York Botanical Garden, a 250-acre National Historic Landmark in the Bronx and the largest garden in any US city. Mr. Long led 43 major projects, including renovating existing gardens, creating 15 new gardens, restoring the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and building scientific research and educational facilities. He expanded the Mertz Library, the world’s largest plant library which holds over 11,000,000 archival items. He oversaw inventive exhibitions and educational opportunities, and he originated the New York Plant Genomics Consortium to identify genes from desert plants that may help plants survive in a changing climate. His work transformed the role of botanical gardens in the world. 


Proposed by Millbrook Garden Club, Zone III

Richard Louv

Julian, California

The Margaret Douglas Medal is awarded for notable service to the cause of conservation education and will be awarded to Richard Louv for profoundly changing environmental education.  


Richard Louv is the author of Last Child in the Woods, and he coined the term “nature-deficit disorder,” which describes the unfortunate consequences of children spending more time indoors than outdoors. Through his visionary leadership, he co-founded the Children & Nature Network, which supports a global movement to build communities where children play, learn, and grow with nature in their everyday lives. Partly inspired by Mr. Louv’s message, the U.S. Congress passed the No Child Left Inside Act to fund environmental education. He has also been an inspiration to pediatricians and countless families, connecting children and communities with the healing powers of nature. He has profoundly changed conservation education.


Proposed by Madeline Mayhood, James River Garden Club, Zone VII

J. Dean Norton

Mount Vernon, Virginia

The Elizabeth Craig Weaver Proctor Medal is awarded, by specific request, to non-members for exemplary service and creative vision in any field related to The Garden Club of America’s special interests and will be awarded to J. Dean Norton for his exemplary service to horticulture and historic preservation.

J. Dean Norton has worked to re-create an authentic 18th century landscape at George Washington’s Mount Vernon for nearly 50 years. He immersed himself in the 18th century books on farming and landscape design read by President Washington and his contemporaries, resulting in Mr. Norton’s expertise on boxwood, as well as gardening techniques and animal husbandry in colonial times. His tireless research and drive for historical accuracy have changed the contemporary understanding of the horticulture, cultivation, and preservation of 18th century American gardens. He generously shares his extensive horticultural and historical knowledge with students, professionals, gardeners, and historic properties across the country.


Proposed by Garden Club of Alexandria, Zone VII

Kathleen Powell

Atlanta, Georgia

The Bonnylin Woods Martin Medal is presented for the most consistently innovative floral designs. The purpose of the medal is to recognize flower arrangers at the highest level and to encourage their participation in GCA and international flower shows, and it will be awarded to Kathleen Powell for her innovative floral designs.

Kathleen Powell, a member of the Peachtree Garden Club, is famous for her original designs and wonderful sense of line and color, and her cutting-edge mechanics mystify and fascinate novice and expert floral designers alike. Mrs. Powell is an award-winning designer known both inside and outside of the US, and she constantly challenges herself to learn more, studying floral design around the world. She was chosen to create an Honorary Exhibit at the World Association of Flower Arrangers in Barbados in 2017. Her generosity as a teacher and mentor are widely praised, and her remarkable talent and creativity shine through her unique designs, inspiring all.


Proposed by Peachtree Garden Club, Zone VIII

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy

Asheville, North Carolina

The Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Medal is awarded for outstanding achievement in environmental protection and the maintenance of the quality of life and will be awarded to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy for outstanding achievement in environmental protection.

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC), founded in 1974 and the oldest land trust in the Southeastern United States, is working to save the “spine” of the Southern Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. Totalling 75,000 acres, the SAHC protects water quality, wildlife and rare plant habitat, farmland, scenic viewsheds, and spaces for outdoor recreation. Its Farmland Preservation Program teaches aspiring farmers to create resilient rural communities, and local residents and tourists learn to appreciate the beauty and importance of the land through numerous SAHC programs. The SAHC connects people with the land through community engagement, farmer education, and volunteerism, thereby preserving the natural heritage and quality of life.

Proposed by The French Broad River Garden Club Foundation, Zone VII 

For additional information on the GCA’s 2020 national medalists, click here.