For the past three days, I’ve been in Richmond, Virginia, where my wife, Betty, is attending the National Garden Clubs Inc. Convention. So that we’re clear on this, I have no function at this event other than as one of the crowd extras (‘man in blue blazer drinking white wine’).
Everyone knows why garden clubs exist. It is to do horticultural good in a community. Clubs engage in civic beautification and other acts of public service. They educate their members and foster friendships. (And, in the kinds of gardens clubs about which I write, their members solve or commit the occasional crime; up to and including murder.)
OK, local garden clubs make sense. But why should there be a national organization for garden clubs? The answer, in a word, is education. There are four cornerstones on which all garden clubs rest: they are environmental, garden study, landscape design, and floral design. For each one of these areas, there is a national group that designs and updates the curriculum for schools in each of these disciplines so that a club member attending Landscape Design School in California covers the same concepts as someone attending in Maine, but tailored to the special needs of each region.
There are also national projects. If you’ve seen a book called, “The Frightened Frog”, you should know it was created under the auspices of NGC and released in 2015 to provide environmental education to children from roughly ages four to nine. Rather than just scaring the bejesus out of kids (the usual way environmental education works), this beautifully illustrated and superbly written book tells a story with an environmental message. This year, another book, “The Saved Seed” will use the same approach.
There are roughly 600 attendees here in Richmond. They come from every state, as well as Central and South America. On the surface, the purpose of the convention is to elect a new set of officers for the coming two years, to pass out awards, and to honor an interesting set of not-universally-known people from the world of horticulture and the environment.
The election, as with most such organizations, is a foregone conclusion. The lone nail-biter is who will be elected Fourth Vice President. That person then begins an apprenticeship that deposits them into the President’s chair eight years hence. I’ve had the pleasure to get to know Sandy Robinson, whose term as NGC President coincided with that of Betty’s as President of the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. As Sandy can attest, the President’s “chair” can more likely be described as Seat 14C on a red-eye flight from Albuquerque to Raleigh: the President’s role is to see and be seen, all the while pressing an agenda. Last evening, I met Nancy Hargroves, the incoming President. I wish her all the best and an unending stream of complementary upgrades.
The real purpose of any convention is to bring together people to exchange ideas, and to put faces on telephone voices and emailed communications. Human nature makes it much more difficult to think poorly of someone you have met and shared a glass of wine with. (A moderate amount of wine is being consumed in Richmond this week.) The 52-page NGC program lists dozens of committees meeting to discuss specific topics. As this is written, Betty is listening to a beleaguered gentleman by the name of Dave Robson explain to an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob how the new "Handbook for Flower Shows" is a marked improvement over its predecessor.
Having been on stage to accept a clutch of national awards bestowed on the state, Betty will have two additional minutes in the spotlight tomorrow morning as she delivers a succinct report to the convention on what the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts accomplished under her administration. As it turns out, the Federation has done much good while she has been its head, and she has much of which to be proud. But if she goes over her allotted two minutes, she still gets ‘the bell’, just like everyone else.
That’s the way it is in the garden club world.