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June 24, 2019

Discovering Flowers and Friendship on a 1929 Voyage to England

In June 1929, eighty-two members of The Garden Club of America visited England as invited guests of the English-Speaking Union. In the words of Elizabeth Lockwood, fifth president of The Garden Club of America, “We went to England primarily to see gardens, to find new flowers, and to learn how to grow them. We not only found charming gardens, but also such courtesy and such friendship that the flowers were almost forgotten in the delightful fellowships.”

The gardens they visited had transitioned from wartime Victory Gardens to their pre-Great War designs with flowers returning to centerpieces and vegetables to the family’s kitchen. The peace and repose of these old world gardens inspired toasts of harmony, abundance, and the undying friendship between the United Kingdom and the United States, all of which would be tested by the Great Depression and the Second World War. Nowhere was that tie more evident than at Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington, built in the mid-1500s.

Sulgrave Manor, then and now, retains many features of the original home and was opened to the public in the 1920s. At that time the garden was redesigned by Sir Reginald Blomfield and has remained largely unaltered. Today visitors can see formal hedges and topiaries, an orchard, herb garden, and beautiful borders for all seasons. The June visit to Sulgrave Manor, included a welcome by the Chairman of the Sulgrave Manor Board, Viscount Lee of Fareham, G.C.S.I., G.B.E.. At the time of the garden club visit, two lovely peacock topiaries sat at the entrance of the manor. They were planted in 1924 by former U. S. President Taft and U.S. Ambassador Harvey and are still prominently placed on the property. Happily still on the property is a gift of The Garden Club of America, a weather vane described in the 1933 book Sulgrave Manor and the Washingtons by H. Clifford Smith as a ‘charming example of eighteenth century iron-work.’ The weather vane is made of wrought iron, its upright rod decorated with a spiral twist, the points of the arrow adorned with two veloutes, and the top terminating in a fleur-de-lys. It came from an ancient barn about 5 miles away.

Visiting gardens continues to be an active pursuit of The Garden Club of America. The Visiting Gardens Committee plans trips both in the United States and abroad to educate club members in garden history and design, horticulture, and the environment.

Top photo: 1929 GCA visit to Sulgrave Manor, The Cotswolds, England.

Second photo: The 18th Century iron weathervane on the roof of Sulgrave Manor was a gift from the GCA in June, 1929. Photo Credit: GCA Archive.

Third photo credit: Suzie Bissell. 


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