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News: IN MEMORIAM: Nancy McLaren, Chairman of the Martin McLaren Horticultural Scholarship


May 26, 2020

2003 Recipient of the GCA Distinguished Service Medal

Nancy McLaren (Mrs. Martin), a Garden Club of America (GCA) honorary member since 1987 and 2003 recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, died on April 25, 2020. She was 98. We mourn the loss of this ardent contributor to international exchange and friendship, through the Martin McLaren Horticultural Scholarship Program (now The Garden Club of America and the Royal Horticultural Society Interchange Fellowships). She was a devoted horticulturist, gracious ambassador, and generous supporter of the Interchange Fellowships, as originally conceived in 1948 by the Hillsborough Garden Club.

Mrs. McLaren was committed to furthering British-American relationships through educational horticultural exchanges. She expressed her commitment on many levels, reflecting her generosity of spirit and leaving an indelible imprint of excellence on The Garden Club of America and on a generation of horticulturists. Beginning in 1950, an annual horticultural student exchange was established and administered by The Garden Club of America and the English-Speaking Union in the UK. In 1985, Mrs. McLaren, then chairman of the Martin McLaren Horticultural Scholarship, named after her late husband, began funding the UK side of the Interchange Fellowship and the American student was known as the Martin McLaren Scholar. Her direct involvement provided both a foundation and a uniquely bespoke quality to the exchange.

Over decades, Nancy McLaren took personal interest in each American student traveling to the UK under her tutelage. She guided and protected, offering friendship and dedicating herself to ensure an individualized program that matched their interests. She provided her personal flat in London, introduced fellows to leading horticulturists and magnificent private gardens, and cared deeply about the well-being of each visiting student, many of whom had never traveled outside the US. The list of those Interchange Fellows who had the gift of a year under her umbrella reads like a “who’s who in American public gardens.” This is her legacy to the GCA and to the US. These American students became leaders, inspired by her kindness, gracious hospitality and genuine curiosity about their interests. Her inspiration, however, went beyond hospitality to a generosity of spirit and encouragement devoted to these American students studying abroad. 

Christopher Jordan, the Martin McLaren Horticultural Scholar in 1995-96 described how “hands on” she was as she took each scholar under her wing.  “She was a real gardener and a wonderful designer. Mrs. McLaren wore her knowledge and style lightly. I sought and enormously valued her advice. She was an intuitive and generous friend. Over a cup of tea (Lapsang Souchong was our favourite), she gave me three books that I still have and use today.” 

Grace Elton, the 2005-06 Martin McLaren Scholar and now CEO of Tower Hill Botanical Garden, loved living in her London flat while working on the Chelsea Flower Show exhibit with the Lake Forest Garden Club. “Mrs. McLaren commanded a room. There was no question who was in charge, in her sweet and unassuming way. She saw the value of education and experience, knowing that by helping the interchange fellows she was helping to create the leadership base of botanical gardens.”   

Stephanie Jutila, now CEO of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, and the 2000-2001 McLaren Scholar, says that Mrs. McLaren became “a cherished friend, the epitome of an ambassador for British American relations, and a horticultural champion. She was so curious about the work, impact and connections each fellow made. Nancy’s legacy will live on through the work of the fellows whose career paths were influenced through her generosity.”

Sarah Carey, former Scholarship Committee chairman and GCA liaison to the RHS from 2007-14, worked closely with Nancy McLaren, saying she will be remembered for a “lasting contribution to international exchange and friendship, the vision of the Interchange Fellowship. Her keen interest and involvement clearly launched many distinguished careers. She helped inspire the highest standards of excellence in the fields of horticulture, landscape design, and public garden leadership.”


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