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2021 National GCA Medalists Announced


January 12, 2021

Highest Honors for for Distinguished Achievements

Ten remarkable leaders recognized for their work in conservation, floral design, historic preservation, horticulture, landscape design, and literary achievement.

The Garden Club of America announced the recipients of the 2021 national medals, the highest honors bestowed upon individuals or institutions by the GCA for distinguished achievements in areas related to its purpose. With a long-standing tradition of celebrating extraordinary efforts to protect and beautify the planet, The Garden Club of America will present the medals at its 108th annual meeting in May. The Garden Club of America is pleased to honor the following 2021 medalists.

Cristián Samper, PhD

President and CEO, Wildlife Conservation Society

The Elizabeth Craig Weaver Proctor Medal is awarded for exemplary service and creative vision in any field related to The Garden Club of America’s special interests and will be awarded to Cristián Samper in recognition of his work in preserving and protecting the world around us.​

Cristián Samper is a global authority on biology and environmental policy. As a graduate student at Harvard in 1989, he received a GCA scholarship—The Garden Club of America Award in Tropical Botany. He credits this award with “changing his life.” 

His leadership skills enable him to inspire others and effect global change. After serving as director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, Cristián became president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). WCS works on four continents and in sixty countries to save wildlife and wild places. Under his leadership, WCS has created over 265 terrestrial and marine conservation areas. He has forged partnerships with non-governmental organizations, foundations, and government leaders.  

Demonstrating his commitment to inspire the next generation to protect the biodiversity of our planet, Cristián created a fellowship in his native Colombia. He has devoted his life to preserving and protecting the world around us. 

Proposed by Cindy Willis, Southampton Garden Club, Zone III

Nainoa Thompson

President and Master Navigator of the Polynesian Voyaging Society

The Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Medal is awarded for outstanding achievement in environmental protection and the maintenance of the quality of life and will be awarded to Nainoa Thompson in recognition of his work in bringing awareness of the importance of the health of the oceans.

For thousands of years, wayfinding—using knowledge of the stars and subtle cues from the ocean and wind—guided Polynesians across the Pacific Ocean. Fascinated with this history, Native Hawaiian Nainoa Thompson studied astronomy and trained with one of the last Polynesian navigators. In 1980, Nainoa and his volunteer crew sailed to Tahiti in a double-hulled, ocean-going canoe built with materials and tools available to his ancestors. Since then, he and his crews have sailed throughout the Pacific, and on a 16,000-mile worldwide voyage.   

His voyages celebrate Polynesian ancestry and bring awareness to the importance of the health of the oceans. The volunteer crew members come from across Polynesia, developing a passion for preserving the oceans while learning the skills of wayfinding. In ports around the world, he engages with volunteers, educators, policy makers, and the public, on ways to live more sustainably, spreading the message that planetary health begins with the oceans.

Proposed by The Garden Club of Honolulu, Zone XII

Douglas Brinkley, PhD

Katherine Tsanoff Brown Professor in Humanities, Rice University

The Frances K. Hutchinson Medal is awarded for distinguished service to conservation and will be awarded to Douglas Brinkley, PhD in recognition of his work in chronicling the American environmental movement

Best-selling author of over thirty books, historian Douglas Brinkley chronicles the American environmental movement in his Wilderness Trilogy: The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for AmericaThe Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom, 1879-1960; and Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America. Brinkley brings to life the evolution of conservation efforts and the beginnings of the national parks, focusing on the key individuals and organizations, including members of The Garden Club of America, who protected our national heritage. His newest book on Rachel Carson documents the transition from a focus on protection of land to the modern environmental movement.

His writing gives us insight into the successes and setbacks of the early environmentalists, providing a guide for approaching future conservation initiatives. His stories of these early environmentalists inspire us, reinforce our efforts, and strengthen our knowledge of the past to help us look boldly into the future.

Proposed by Country Garden Club, Zone X

Diane Lewis, MD

Author, The Great Healthy Yard Project

The Margaret Douglas Medal is awarded for notable service to the cause of conservation education and will be awarded to Diane Lewis, Bedford Garden Club, in recognition for her work in creating a platform that inspires others to take simple, straightforward steps to protect our environment and preserve our health. 

Dr. Diane Lewis is an environmental activist and founder of The Great Healthy Yard Project (TGHYP). A medical specialist in kidney diseases, she recognized that water polluted with minute amounts of the chemicals found in synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers can damage endocrine systems causing lifelong effects on humans and animals. Most of these chemicals come from private land, our homes and lawns; what we put on our lawns and gardens ends up in our drinking water.

Her book, The Great Healthy Yard Project, together with her speeches, blogs, and newspaper articles helped raise awareness and change national public policy. Individuals, communities, and state and local governments across the country have pledged to care for yards without these chemicals. Diane combines her medical expertise and her love of the outdoors to create a platform that inspires others to take simple, straightforward steps to protect our environment and preserve our health.  

Proposed by Bedford Garden Club, Zone III

Sylvia Abbott

Floral Designer

The Katharine Thomas Cary Medal is awarded in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of floral design education and will be awarded to Sylvia Abbott, Litchfield Garden Club, in recognition of instilling a love of floral design throughout the GCA.

Sylvia Abbott has inspired hope, ignited the imagination, and instilled a love of floral design throughout the GCA. Winner of multiple floral design awards, Sylvia is an ardent advocate for flower shows. To share her love of floral design with GCA club members across the country, Sylvia helped to create Floral Design 101, available to anyone interested in learning. She was instrumental in training instructors for all 12 zones. Following the success of that program, FD201 and FD301 were created, continuing the instruction for intermediate and advanced floral designers.   

A long-time judge, Sylvia’s comments are always clear and concise, focusing on the elements and principles of design, and providing sensitive comments that inform visitors and teach the arrangers. Many happy exhibitors have benefited from her gentle manner, and her calm, sincere, and thoughtful approach. Sylvia Abbott is a shining example of a GCA club member stimulating knowledge and the love of floral design.

Proposed by Litchfield Garden Club, Zone II

The Preservation Society of Newport County

The Historic Preservation Medal is awarded for outstanding work in the field of preservation and/or restoration of historic gardens or buildings of national importance and will be awarded to The Preservation Society of Newport County for its work in preserving a critical component of America’s vibrant, rich cultural heritage.

Newport, Rhode Island, has been a summer destination for the wealthy from colonial times through the Gilded Age. These patricians built elaborate summer “cottages” designed by the best-known architects and landscape designers. Beginning in 1945, The Preservation Society of Newport County (PSNC) has worked to protect and preserve fourteen of these historic homes and elaborate gardens. In seventy five years, over forty million visitors have toured these homes, learning about this period of America’s architectural heritage and how it reflects the country’s social and cultural history.  

PSNC sponsors a Research Fellows Program that develops the next generation of preservationists. This program provides hands-on research experiences in one of America’s richest sources of both colonial and Gilded Age history. Providing tours, educational programs, and family activities, PSNC is preserving a critical component of America’s vibrant, rich cultural heritage. PSNC sets the standard for the very best preservation practices in the country.

Proposed by Newport Garden Club, Zone II

Richard A. Jaynes, PhD 


The Eloise Payne Luquer Medal is awarded for special achievement in the field of botany that may include medical research, the fine arts, or education and will be awarded to Richard A. Jaynes, PhD in recognition of his dedication to plant research and encouraging wider accessibility of improved cultivars.

A botanist, horticulturist, researcher, and plant breeder, Dr. Richard Jaynes has devoted his life to plants, developing cultivars with improved habit and disease resistance. As the foremost authority on Kalmia latifolia, native mountain laurel, he has introduced more than forty cultivars, authored the definitive guide, and ensured the availability of these cultivars and many other unusual plants through his Broken Arrow Nursery. Mountain laurel has become a staple of cultivated landscapes. 

Dick Jaynes is a devoted champion of native shrubs, working to expand the appreciation of these plants and their use in gardens. In addition, he edited the definitive reference guide on nut trees grown in the continental U.S. and Canada. His dedication to plant research, publishing, education, and encouraging wider accessibility of improved cultivars to amateur gardeners as well as professional horticulturists, perfectly reflects The Garden Club of America’s purpose to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening.

Proposed by Garden Club of New Haven, Zone II

Amy Goldman Fowler, PhD

Author, heirloom seed saving advocate

The Florens DeBevoise Medal is awarded for horticultural achievement in the fields of hybridizing, collecting or nurturing,  and will be awarded to Amy Goldman Fowler, PhD for her work in the heirloom seed and local food movements.

Amy Fowler is a leader in the heirloom seed and local food movements, committed to protecting the genetic diversity of the world’s food supply by saving and promoting heirloom seeds. She is an award-winning author of five books documenting the beauty, flavor, history, and diversity of heirloom fruits and vegetables. Described as “perhaps the world’s premier vegetable gardener,” she has popularized the use of heirloom varieties by home gardeners and celebrated chefs nationwide.

To preserve these historic garden treasures, Amy is an integral part of a community of seed conservationists operating around the world. She is former chairman of the Seed Savers Exchange, the nation’s leading, non-profit seed saving organization. Her passion for gardening, her devotion to heirloom seeds, and her preservation of this essential part of the world’s horticulture heritage, combined with her willingness to collaborate and share her knowledge, exemplifies the work of The Garden Club of America.

Proposed by Garden Club of East Hampton, Zone III

Laurie Olin, FASLA

Landscape architect

The Elvira Broome Doolan Medal is awarded in recognition of innovative work in landscape architecture with emphasis on city planning and civic improvement in urban areas and will be awarded to Laurie Olin in recognition of his work in creating urban environments that enrich the lives of those who experience them.

Landscape architecture is a celebration of place, recognizing the historic, natural, and social importance to create spaces that enrich the lives of those who experience them. For nearly five decades, landscapes designed by Laurie Olin and his firm, Olin Studio, have contributed to the vitality of civic life. A pioneer of prioritizing sustainability in his designs, he produces urban environments that emphasize access to the streets and surrounding buildings, making graceful connections between nature and the city. His many projects include Bryant Park in Manhattan, the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles, and the U.S. Embassy in London.

While leading his firm, he has continued as an inspiring teacher of landscape design, mentoring generations of students. A prolific author, his books on landscape architecture history, theory, and design have won multiple awards. Laurie Olin’s work has left cities richer with enhanced public spaces, civic pride, and quality of life.

Proposed by Wissahickon Garden Club, Zone V

Thomas A. Christopher

Author and Garden Columnist

The Sarah Chapman Francis Medal is awarded for outstanding literary achievement related to any aspect of The Garden Club of America’s interests and will be awarded to Thomas A. Christopher in recognition of his work in giving readers a deeper understanding of the natural world.

Through his many books, podcasts, magazine and newspaper articles, and lectures, Thomas Christopher has elevated the art of garden writing, giving readers a deeper understanding of the natural world. With a touch of humor in clear and crisp prose, he captures the attention of his readers. From his first book, In Search of Lost Roses, to the award-winning Garden Revolution: How our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change, to his most recent book, Nature into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, he has instructed thousands of gardeners.  

His writing explores a wide range of topics—heirloom chickens, tropical plants, xeriscaping, making hard cider, and slow-growing fescues—expanding our understanding of the many facets of sustainable gardening. He reaches a wide audience with his syndicated column, “Be a Better Gardener.” Thomas Christopher’s work expresses the joy we feel in nature, helping us become better gardeners and more conscientious ecological stewards. 

Proposed by Middletown Garden Club, Zone II


For additional information on the GCA’s 2021 national medalists, click here.

Learn more about the the national medalist proposal process and GCA award winners.



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