Members Area

Glorious Gardener: Eleanor Weller Reade


April 12, 2023

Eleanor Weller Reade of the Garden Club of Twenty

Eleanor Weller Reade of the Garden Club of Twenty has a mantra: “Do what you believe in, have a message and project it.” This bon mot and plenty more were dispensed in a delightful interview held in one of her five personal libraries full of rare books and prints—most about gardens—at “My Lady’s Manor,” her charming country home in Maryland’s hunt country. Eleanor maintains that there is “plenty of room for original people in the GCA.” She is certainly one of the most original.

In her twenties, Eleanor discovered the GCA collection of hand-colored glass lantern slides depicting extraordinary gardens of the 20s and 30s.  The slides had been dispersed among garden clubs around the country, and Reade was convinced that they should be reassembled and properly archived. She went straight to the top and asked Mrs. Henry Norweb (Emery May Holden Norweb), the GCA President, to sign off on the project. Eleanor, a born archivist, says she was simply a third generation GCA “nobody” who was then tasked with leading a good committee. 

The committee painstakingly put together thirty to forty slide albums and presented the work to the GCA Executive Committee. From this dedicated start the GCA now has a national Garden History and Design committee. In 1992 the slide collection that started it all was formally donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens.

Reade co-authored with Mac Griswold The Golden Age of American Gardens: Proud Owners, Private Estates, 1890-1940 and Eleanor became a popular lecturer all over the country. For the book Reade and Griswold interviewed grandchildren of the estate garden owners and pored over scrapbooks full of photos and letters — “much better than the internet,” Reade maintains. Their book won numerous accolades and is a valuable resource for both professional and amateur researchers.

Reade “lives surrounded by beauty and makes sure I always am.” At the time of our visit, new buds in her lagoon garden pressed up; the topiary in her formal garden competed with vigorous volunteers; and migrating geese took up residence on her pond. Reade spoke of new projects to nurture, including a second book, confident that anything was possible.  




See All News