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Inaugural Garden History & Design Conference Celebrates Visionary Garden Design


November 22, 2023

First ever Garden History & Design Conference showcases historic and contemporary gardens

The inaugural Garden History & Design Conference was held virtually on November 16, 2023. Presentations featured visionary gardeners who shared their love of gardening and the planet. Presenters toured attendees through a wide variety of gardens to show how gardens past and present address the challenges of their times.

The conference was dedicated to Eleanor Weller Reade, a longtime GCA member who worked tirelessly to collect over 3000 glass lantern slides of historic gardens. These slides had once been used in GCA club presentations but had been dispersed around the country. Reade spearheaded a campaign to restore the collection and these slides became the foundation for The Garden Club of America Collection at the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Gardens (AAG). 

One of the highlights of the conference was a conversation between Reade, recent Smithsonian AAG intern Carter Hulinsky, and Cindy Brown, Manager of Collections, Education and Access at Smithsonian Gardens. When Brown praised Reade for her visionary efforts and praised the value of the slides, Reade demurred, saying that these slides were produced in the post WWI era by “amateur ladies.” Brown countered with “I’ve never seen an amateur GCA lady!”

Other speakers included Steve Byrns, President of Untermyer Gardens Conservancy in Yonkers, NY and Uli Lorimer, Director of Horticulture at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA. Landscape architects Alice Farley and Mikyoung Kim spoke about gardens that address our changing climate and gardens that respond to neurodiversity needs. Documentarian Karyl Evans shared excerpts from her film about renowned landscape designer Beatrix Farrand. Lisa Tziona Switkin, Partner at Field Operations, a landscape architecture firm that has designed prominent urban parks such as the High Line in NYC, addressed how to improve cities by designing “a resilient, holistic and vibrant public realm.”

William Thomas, Executive Director of the Chanticleer Foundation in Wayne, PA, left the audience with three guiding principles: Embrace the Site You’re In, Treasure Trees, and Focus on What Truly Brings You Pleasure. Edwina von Gal, landscape designer and founder of the Perfect Earth Project, echoed this sentiment, encouraging gardeners to practice “nature-based” gardening and to consider what makes visitors feel “happy and at peace in the garden.” 


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