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News: This month in GCA History—May 2019


May 28, 2019

Flower Shows a Vehicle for Design, Conservation, and Horticultural Education

To paraphrase an old saying, April showers bring May Flower Shows—a tradition dating back to very beginning of The Garden Club of America. In fact, six months after the organization’s first meeting in May 1913, The Garden Club of Michigan was already promoting its flower show in the GCA's Bulletin encouraging their members to plant daffodil bulbs for the spring competition. Flower shows fit perfectly into the GCA purpose articulated at its inception: “To stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs…”. Flower shows were and continue to be the perfect vehicle to educate members and the public on horticulture, floral design, conservation, garden history and design, botanical arts and now photography.   

In the beginning, flower shows were local, usually small, and had only the most basic of rules. Their evolution into more complex and instructive shows can be largely attributed to the hard work of The Garden Club of America over many long years. Starting in 1914, The International Flower Show in New York soon became the largest and most prestigious of these competitions. The Garden Club of America made its first appearance as an exhibitor in May 1921. That first foray into the big leagues was not without its challenges, as the GCA's first history relates,“One club’s sod didn’t arrive; another’s palest pink rose, ordered a week ahead of time, arrived a ‘Crimson Rambler’; one couldn’t get her materials together until an hour before the judging; and another’s bird-bath leaked! But we learned that sawdust can be had in bags to take the place of soil, that sod is the hardest plant to buy in winter, that flat moss comes by the sack, and that all evergreens must be fireproofed, which ruins their color.” The popularity of this show was legendary. For example, the 1928 show attracted over 108,000 visitors. Member clubs from across the country, even as far away as California, brought entries to New York. Miniature models of gardens were always very popular, and the GCA used the opportunity to showcase what might be created by a novice at home.

Flower shows today showcase beauty, share information, broaden knowledge, and underscore the importance of good environmental stewardship. The Garden Club of America flower shows can range in scope from small club shows to large public events visited by thousands of people over several days. Whatever their size, flower shows today continue the purpose of the GCA laid out 106 years ago this month, encouraging members and the public to learn about and love the natural world.  


Top photo: Circa 1930, GCA club members are setting up an exhibition at the International Flower Show in New York City. At the show they offered horticultural classes featuring specialty demonstration gardens such as rock, herb and seasonal flower gardens to provide the public with new design and horticultural ideas.

Right photo: Circa 1930. A conservation exhibition at the International Flower Show teaching the visitor about the GCA’s campaign to rid the roads of signage.


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