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This Month in GCA History - March


March 26, 2019

The GCA's influence in the founding of the United States National Arboretum

On March 4, 1927, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill which created the United States National Arboretum. This 446-acre institution in the heart of Northeast Washington, 2.2 miles from the U.S. Capitol building, is an important research and educational facility. It is home to the most complete collection of boxwood in the world, along with remarkable collections of azalea, daffodils, daylilies, dogwood, holly, magnolia, and maple. What is not well known about the Arboretum is that without the support of The Garden Club of America and its indefatigable members, it likely would never have been created.

Supported by The Garden Club of America leadership, the United States Department of Agriculture called for the establishment of a national arboretum in 1914. Many GCA members were actively involved in the conversations in Washington, D.C. with Mrs. Frank Brett Noyes, Janet, arguably the most influential. A member at large of the GCA, she knew Washington politics and was the ultimate Washington insider. Mrs. Noyes would not hesitate to march into President Coolidge’s office or that of the budget director, General Lord, on her mission to ensure the establishment of the arboretum. It is said that she told the President, ”I will not take no for an answer.” The bill to establish and fund the arboretum was written in her living room and subsequently introduced in Congress. Mrs. Harold Pratt, the secretary of the GCA, testified before Congress in support of the effort. When the bill was finally signed into law, the pen used was sent to Mrs. Noyes along with a note from Frederick Coville, often called the father of the Arboretum and its first director, stating “without your support this project undoubtedly would not have received at this time either presidential or congressional approval and the whole enterprise probably would have been postponed for a generation. The scientific men of Washington and all the agencies of progress associated with the arboretum owe you a permanent debt of gratitude.”

Since that time, the Arboretum has continued to be the beneficiary of the GCA’s efforts. In 1963, the GCA marked its 50th anniversary by funding a Chinese Gazebo, designed by Perry Wheeler, to grace Asia Valley. In 2010, the GCA raised the alarm when the Arboretum announced plans to eliminate the boxwood and azalea collections because of a lack of funding; in succeeding years it  supported the Arboretum’s strategic planning process to ensure thoughtful stewardship of those collections. Garden clubs in the Washington, D.C. area are still actively involved today. Some clubs recently helped clean up Springhouse Run, a formerly polluted stream on the property, and restored native plants in the streambed through a Partners for Plants project.

At its May 2019 annual meeting, the GCA will induct Dr. Richard Olsen, Director of the United States National Arboretum and a distinguished scientist, as a GCA honorary member.

Pictured: Janet Noyes


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