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2022 National GCA Medalists Announced


January 11, 2022

Highest Honors 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 2022 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 109th annual meeting in April.

The Garden Club of America is pleased to honor the following 2022 medalists.


The Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Medal, awarded for outstanding achievement in environmental protection and maintenance of the quality of life, will be presented to The Parklands of Floyds Fork, a model for 21st century public parks dedicated to sustainability for future generations.   

In the 1890’s, Frederick Law Olmsted designed three public parks connected by parkways for Louisville, Kentucky, bringing nature into neighborhoods. In 2004, Olmsted’s legacy was carried forward when The Parklands of Floyds Fork became the vision of the 21st Century Parks, newly formed by the Dan Jones family as a means to protect rural environments from urban sprawl. 

Created over eight years from 2011-2019, The Parklands of Floyds Fork is four parks connected by broad parkways, twenty miles long with 4,000 acres of forests, meadows, and wetlands along the southern and eastern edge of Louisville. The Parklands was designed as a sustainable park with native plants, including 80,000 newly-planted trees, and annually maintained thanks to donations from individuals, businesses and foundations.

The Parklands of Floyds Fork is a model for urban parks in the 21st century—a public-private partnership with broad community support, creating a better quality of life by putting people and nature first.   

Proposed by Glenview Garden Club, Zone VII


Michele S. Byers

Executive Director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation

The Frances K. Hutchinson Medal, awarded for distinguished service to conservation, will be presented to Michele S. Byers, in recognition of her work to conserve open land.

As executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) since 1999, Michele Byers has guided NJCF in conserving 60,000 acres of open space and farmland in the nation’s most heavily-populated state. That acreage amounted to almost half of the 125,000 acres NJCF has preserved over its sixty-year history.  

With Michele at the helm, NJCF has formed a consortium with conservation groups in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York to protect the Delaware River watershed and to improve water quality. 

She and NJCF have worked with civic groups and four former New Jersey governors to preserve the iconic view of the Palisades, and to revitalize urban parks and green spaces in some of America’s poorest cities. Michele served on the New Jersey State Planning Commission, helping to write legislation to promote land preservation. 

A model of leadership for conservation groups across the country, Michele Byers has an inspiring record of success in conserving the best of New Jersey for present and future generations.    

Proposed by Cynthia Kellogg, Short Hills Garden Club, Zone IV


Julie Packard

Ocean Conservationist and Philanthropist

The Margaret Douglas Medal, awarded for notable service to the cause of conservation education, will be presented to Julie Packard in recognition of her ocean stewardship and for elevating public awareness about the ocean environment. 

Ocean conservationist and philanthropist, Julie Packard has spent her life promoting the preservation of ocean resources and environmental awareness. She has been a leading voice for science-based policy reform to support healthy oceans, convincing US politicians to change ocean policy to protect critical habitat in marine preserves.  

As director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA), Monterey, California, since 1984, Julie has shared the wonders of the ocean with over two million annual visitors. She has worked to restore kelp forests and critical ecosystems, which aided in the recovery of sea otters. Under Julie’s leadership, MBA developed Seafood Watch in 1999 to promote buying only fish that are sustainably caught. By 2020, over eighty-five percent of the US grocery store chains and restaurants had committed to purchasing only sustainable seafood.   

Under Julie Packard’s leadership, the MBA has become a leading ocean conservation organization, collaborating with aquaria worldwide, to form a global effort to preserve and protect the oceans.     

Proposed by Susan C. Uydess, Carmel-by-the-Sea Garden Club, Zone XII   


Susan M. Rademacher

Historic Parks Conservator, Author

The Historic Preservation Medal, awarded for outstanding work in the field of preservation and/or restoration of historic gardens or buildings of national importance, will be presented to Susan M. Rademacher for her work in protecting and preserving historic and cultural landscapes.

Inspired by Olmsted’s vision that large public landscapes in urban areas must be accessible and welcoming to all people, Susan Rademacher has dedicated her life to protecting and preserving historic and cultural landscapes.   

In 1991, as president of Louisville’s Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Susan spearheaded development of a master plan to revitalize the 1,900 acres of parks, a plan that combined community-driven initiatives with environmental design, educational purposes, and historic renovation, and raised the funds to implement the plan. Her process for creating this master plan has become a model for park conservancies across the country.  

In 2007, Susan became parks curator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and oversaw master planning, design, and fund-raising for the restoration of Mellon Park in downtown Pittsburgh.    

A GCA Honorary Member and a gifted author and scholar, Susan Rademacher has shared her passion for preserving urban parks for the benefit of GCA clubs, Olmsted 200, and conservancies across the country.  

Proposed by Melissa Sanfilippo, Village Garden Club of Sewickley, Zone V

Dr. Cynthia Morton


The Eloise Payne Luquer Medal, awarded for special achievement in the field of botany that may include medical research, the fine arts, or education, will be presented to Dr. Cynthia Morton, in recognition of her research of genetic diversity in urban forests.

An internationally recognized botanist, Dr. Cynthia Morton has gained worldwide attention for her research on genetic diversity in urban forests. In 2004, with a $19,000 grant from the Garden Club of Allegheny County (GCAC), Cynthia studied the DNA of the London planetree in a Pittsburgh park. She discovered broad genetic diversity in older urban planetrees, while the DNA of the newer trees purchased from nurseries was identical, cloned rather than grown from seed. A $30,000 grant from GCAC in 2015 on red maple (Acer rubrum) revealed the newer maples were genetically identical. Cynthia’s research has shown that eliminating genetic diversity in urban forests makes tree species more susceptible to insects and disease.

In 2016, Cynthia presented her research at the International Conference on Urban Tree Diversity in Australia. Since then, botanists in Australia, Canada, and Japan have been conducting research with similar results.  
Dr. Cynthia Morton’s ground-breaking work has been featured in newspapers, videos, and scientific publications.    

Proposed by Garden Club of Allegheny County, Zone V 

Robin Karson

Landscape Historian, Author, Publisher

The Sarah Chapman Francis Medal, awarded for outstanding literary achievement related to any aspect of The Garden Club of America’s interests, will be presented to Robin Karson in recognition of her work in offering readers a source for scholarly research on American landscape architecture. 

Robin Karson, author and publisher, has championed the history of American landscape design for thirty years.  

While researching her seminal book on landscape architect Fletcher Steele in the late 1980’s, Robin realized how little was known about America’s landscape history beyond a few academic departments. In 1992, she launched the Library of American Landscape History (LALH), a think tank for the sharing of information and a publisher for scholarly works on landscape architecture.  

Under Robin’s leadership, LALH has published 42 books, becoming the leading publisher of books that advance the study and practice of American landscape architecture. LALH reaches a wider audience through its annual news magazine VIEW, through exhibitions about landscape architecture, and via five documentary films on the LALH website and YouTube. Additionally, it serves as a resource for landscape architecture students.  

Landscape historian Robin Karson has provided a needed resource for scholars, increased the scholarly literature, and fostered the history of American landscape design as a serious academic discipline.   

Proposed by Arete Warren, Millbrook Garden Club, Zone III   

The Center for Plant Conservation

The Distinguished Service Medal, awarded for distinguished service in the field of horticulture, will be presented to the Center for Plant Conservation for its notable work in saving the nation’s endangered plants from extinction.

The Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) is a unique network of over sixty world-class botanical institutions that collaboratively work to save the imperiled plants of North America. Founded in 1984 in Boston at The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, CPC began working with eighteen botanical gardens and arboreta, with a mission to save the endangered plants of the United States.  

The CPC works with scientists around the world to advance and share best practices in saving plants from extinction. Plants are protected in situ (protecting the natural habitat), and ex situ (in greenhouses, display gardens, seed banks, and laboratories). Of the 4,400 rare and endangered plant species in North America, one-half are in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants, with a goal of doubling the number in the next three years.  

CPC safeguards rare plants by advancing science-based conservation practices, connecting and empowering plant conservationists, and inspiring all to protect biodiversity for future generations.   

Proposed by Noanett Garden Club, Zone I  

Adrian Benepe

President and CEO, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The Amy Angell Collier Montague Medal is awarded for outstanding civic achievement and will be awarded to Adrian Benepe for his lifelong effort to promote green spaces, expanding urban parks in creative and novel ways.

As commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation under Mayor Bloomberg, 800 acres of new parks across all five boroughs were created, often by converting underutilized land (including an abandoned elevated rail line that became the High Line). His advocacy for green infrastructure and community involvement changed the way people think about public spaces.

At the Trust for Public Land (TPL), Adrian helped city leaders across the country improve their park systems. The website ParkScore helps local park systems identify underserved areas, with a goal of 100% of people within a 10-minute walk of a park. In Chicago, he spearheaded creation of The 606 trailhead, connecting neighborhoods with a 3-mile park by using abandoned railways.

The new CEO of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Adrien Benepe continues to promote the essential role of urban parks.

Proposed by Liz McLanahan, North Country Garden Club of Long Island, Zone III

Robert Glenn Ketchum

Environmental Photographer

The J. Sherwood Chalmers Medal, awarded for outstanding achievement in the field of photography and/or photography education as it relates to the purpose of The Garden Club of America, will be presented to Robert Glenn Ketchum for using his camera to educate the public about critical environmental issues.

Robert Glenn Ketchum uses his artistry behind the camera to save the landscape, not just capture its beauty. For over forty years, his imagery and books have helped define contemporary photography while at the same time addressing critical national environmental issues.  

He has taken his lens to the degraded, the polluted, the threatened places in our country and shown the extraordinary beauty of nature, but also the damage that man has wrought. Using his art to rescue places, like Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River Valley, and the No Pebble Mine Campaign to protect the Bristol Bay Salmon Fishery, was revolutionary.  

Robert’s inspirational advocacy work led to the creation of the International League of Conservation Photographers. The iconic exhibit American Photographers and the National Parks was the first time a curator had demonstrated the impact of American landscape photography on the development of the national park system. His impactful and influential work can be seen in the Smithsonian among many other museums. Audubon magazine named him as one of the 100 people “who shaped the environmental movement of the 20th Century.”  

Proposed by Philipa (Flip) Caldwell, Woodside-Atherton Garden Club, Zone XII


Horticultural Researcher

The Medal of Honor, awarded for outstanding service to horticulture, will be presented to William Edward Friedman for his research on the evolution of flowering plants.

A scholar with hundreds of published scientific articles, Dr. William Edward Friedman (Ned) has made a major impact on our understanding of the origin and early evolution of flowering plants. Becoming director of the Arnold Arboretum in 2011, Ned’s recent research into climate change and habitat loss has led to collaborations with international groups to protect hundreds of species endangered in their native habitats. 

Ned has made the Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Massachusetts, welcoming to all. His “Director’s Posts from the Collections,” with his photos illustrating the natural beauty of plants, have expanded their audience. Insisting that the Arnold Arboretum remain open for the entire community during COVID-19, he promoted the health benefits of public parks and arboreta, and the importance of access to nature in an urban environment. Ned has mentored a new generation of plant scientists and engaged citizens, helping people understand, love, and want to save the world’s plants.    
Proposed by Peggy Mayfield, Fox Hill Garden Club, Zone I

Learn more about the history of these national medals and previous winners.


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