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News: In Memoriam: Shirley Meneice


July 28, 2020

A Garden Club of America Horticultural Luminary

The Garden Club of America mourns the loss of one of its most revered horticultural icons. Shirley Armstrong Meneice passed away in California on July 16, 2020, just a few weeks shy of her 97th birthday.  

“Shirley was one of the warmest, most engaging women I have ever met. The twinkle in her eye told you all you needed to know about her. She was a gift to the GCA,” said Debbie Edwards, current GCA president.

Born on August 25, 1923 in St. Louis, Missouri, Shirley grew up in La Grange, Illinois. After graduating from Connecticut College for Women, she returned to the midwest working as a journalist for Esquire. She married Lee Morgan Meneice, and eventually they made their way to California. When their children were grown, the couple retired in Pebble Beach, living on the Monterey Peninsula for many decades. 

Channeling her innate horticultural curiosity, Shirley began growing and hybridizing camellias in the 1960’s. Her interest and research put her in communication with camellia experts at botanical institutions around the world. Shirley was a life-time member of the American Camellia Society and on the occasion of her 80th birthday, the ACS honored her with the naming and registration of a new variety known as Camellia japonica ‘Shirley Meneice.’  

Shirley joined Carmel-by-the-Sea Garden Club in 1986, actively serving in multiple club roles as Recording Secretary, Horticulture Chairman, Awards Chairman, Scholarship Chairman, Provisional Chairman, Bulletin Chairman, Club Vice President, and Club President.  

She went on to assume several GCA leadership positions as well: Zone XII Horticulture Representative, Vice Chairman of Horticulture and Co-chairman for Partners for Plants, Chairman of the Horticulture Committee, ex-officio member and advisor to Horticulture. Drawing upon her journalistic talents, Shirley served as vice chairman of the GCA's Bulletin Committee—writing the Bloomers column for many years. She helped edit and proof articles for The Real Dirt. Her ever-present aim to stimulate public knowledge of plants and how to grow them propelled her to create a propagation pamphlet for GCA club members, of which an updated version is still in use today.     

In 1993, Shirley became an approved Horticulture Judge. After years of judging countless flower shows all over the country, she earned GCA Emeritus Status in 2009. 

When the acclaimed GCA plant exchange program proved difficult to continue post September 11, 2001, Shirley and the Horticulture Committee dreamed of a new way to heighten horticultural enthusiasm for GCA club members. The result was an educational horticulture meeting that began in 2002 at The Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. According to Ann Frierson, GCA president at the time, “Shirley was able to move mountains without the ground ever knowing it had been disturbed. When it was my pleasure to inform Shirley the Executive Committee had unanimously voted the Horticulture workshop would forever carry her name, she was both speechless and incredulous!” This famed annual conference honors Shirley to this day. Of special note, Shirley was happily “in her element” again last fall, while attending the 2019 Shirley Meneice Horticulture Conference, held at Denver Botanic Gardens. She charmed all attendees with her eager participation at every lecture, workshop, and excursion!

Shirley’s intimate knowledge of plants and dedication to promoting sound horticulture and conservation practices earned her many awards over the years. She received the Carmel-by-the-Sea Club Horticulture Award twice. She earned the club Medal of Merit, and the club’s Jean Booth Mitchell Award, along with a club commendation for 30 years of dedicated service. In 1998, she received the Zone XII Horticulture Award. During the GCA’s Centennial Annual Meeting held in Philadelphia in 2013, Shirley was presented the esteemed Achievement Medal “for her unfailing enthusiasm in sharing her knowledge while constantly inspiring GCA club members to explore the Horticulture world.” 

In addition to her horticultural prowess, Shirley was an avid birder and conservationist. She enthusiastically served on the boards of Connecticut College, Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento, California Women’s Amateur Golf Championship, and the Center for Plant Conservation. 

To everyone blessed to have known her, Shirley Meneice was a generous mentor, graciously giving of her time, talent, and knowledge. As Ann Frierson also shared, “Her humility and selflessness reflected her character. Her smiles and pleasure in association spoke to why she was the Pied Piper of Horticulture for all of the GCA!  She was a legend in her own time and will forever be.” 


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